Margaret Atwood Promotes New Book at Mount Holyoke

Photo by Anya Gruber '16 | Margaret Atwood described the inspirations behind her most recent work.  

Anya Gruber '16 Associate Editor

Margaret Atwood, a Canadian author best known for her 1985 dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” visited Mount Holyoke on Oct. 22 to speak and promote her newest book “The Heart Goes Last.” This stop was one of many on Atwood’s book tour across the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. The event was co-sponsored by the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley.

Valerie Martin, a Mount Holyoke professor of English and author of “The Confessions of Edward Day,” introduced Atwood. Martin is a longtime friend of Atwood who has introduced her at several events over the years. She noted Atwood’s tirelessness in promoting her books, as well as writing them, and remarked on her long list of published works.

“Personally, I’m eagerly awaiting her debut into a new genre, and I’m sure you’ll join me in the excitement frothing up around her forthcoming apocalyptic cookbook, ‘No Leftovers,’” Martin quipped, expressing her admiration for Atwood’s ability to cross genres, including children’s literature, poetry, short fiction, essays and novels.

The event was recorded by the radio station WAMC and was hosted by Joe Donahue, who has a weekly segment in which he talks with authors about their newest books.

The conversation centered around “The Heart Goes Last,” which Atwood wrote in an unusual format. Installments on a blog-type form were compiled into what became the final book. “It came to be written online,” said Atwood, on a site that was “dedicated to publishing journalism pieces and longer and short fiction in a way that used to appear in glossy magazines,” as per the suggestion of her editor.

“At the center of the plot of the story, there is a [for-profit] prison, and I have long been interested in the history of prisons,” Atwood said, when asked about where the inspiration for her latest book came. She also cited her interest in what happens to a society, such as rural Canada, when there are no prisons.

“Prisons have an upside as well as a downside. Before there were prisons, if somebody was really a danger to a community, you had to kill them,” said Atwood.

Atwood also has an interest in science, which comes through in her writing. Raised by scientists, she spent her childhood exploring nature and playing with chemistry sets with her brother, who is now a neuroscientist and often reads Atwood’s manuscripts to review the science she includes in her novels.

“Biology; I was just surrounded by it. And it, of course, made us very experimental as children,” said Atwood, remarking that her continuing sense of curiosity was cemented by those early experiences in her youth.

This past May, Atwood became the first author to be included in the Future Library, a project conceptualized by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, who visualizes a Norwegian forest filled with young trees, which, in 100 years, will be cut down to make anthologies filled with the works of famous authors over the course of the next century. Atwood’s manuscript, however, will remain a strictly-held secret until that time.