Acclaimed author Margaret Atwood charms UB community

Atwood delivers keynote address for ‘Humanities to the Rescue’ weekend

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Margaret Atwood said she understands why people are concerned about the future of the humanities.

Atwood’s sold-out keynote address, “An Evening with Margaret Atwood,” kicked off the “Humanities to the Rescue” weekend on Friday in the Center for the Arts. Her speech was part of a UB’s Humanities Institute project that aims to illuminate the importance of the humanities in the current socio-political climate. Kari Winter, executive director of the Humanities Institute, moderated a Q&A session following the speech.

“You may feel like a rat trying to find the cheese in [the humanities]. But believe me, there’s treasure in there,” Atwood said. “The treasure is in the stories, and we have to know the bad stories as well as the good ones because guess what –– the bad stories are still out there.”

Atwood talked about her experiences writing for a future generation. She also mentioned a manuscript she submitted for the Future Library project, a program in Norway that will collect books from 100 authors including Atwood. The project will release the books in 2114.

Atwood said all her creative ideas originated from real-life experiences. Her time at Harvard played a role in “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

“The wall on which the bodies of the executed are hanged [in the novel] is the Harvard Wall,” Atwood said. “Back in 1985 when the novel was first published, Harvard did not find any of this amusing. But they have come around since.”

Robin Schulze, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said hearing Atwood talk in person was close to her heart as an English professor.

“What she said about the darkest of her novels being hopeful was something I never noticed in them before –– they’re all written for posterity,” Schulze said. “Everything we all do everyday to document our lives, to make sure we’re recording our feelings or even a letter to a friend –– these are all just really hopeful things.”

Caitlin Conlon, a senior English major, said she enjoyed the way Atwood joked lightheartedly about political issues.

“Nowadays it’s really easy to become frustrated with our political and social situation,” Conlon said. “The way she still has that hope and inspires that hope in other people is really significant for me.”

Winter has written several papers on Atwood’s work and has been teaching it as a subject tied to the power of storytelling. She said she was glad to see a woman who has achieved such success.

“There haven’t been many women who culture has allowed to have that long-term blossoming of their work,” Winter said. “And it’s just so deeply gratifying to me to see her success and to be fully inhabiting the literary genius.”

Haruka Kosugi contributed reporting for this article.

Anna Savchenko is the assistant news editor and can be reached at anna.savchenko@ubspectrum.com and @annasavchenkooo.