Audioburst Search

Margaret Atwood in conversation with Omar El Akkad (Rebroadcast)


Hey It's Andrew the director of Literary Arts Literary Arts. We rely on our community. People like you for support to help make this podcast and all our programming possible give today literary Dash Arts Dot. Org forward slash donate welcome to the archive project. I'm Andrew Procter Executive Director of Literary Arts. The archive project is a retrospective some of the most engaging. Talk from the world's best writers for more than thirty five years of Literary Arts in Portland Support for the archive project is provided by Cole. Haan Cole Haan shoes bags and outerwear go with you while you work your way. Extraordinary more at Cole. Haan Dot Com in this episode. We feature Margaret Atwood from September. Twenty Nineteen Atwood came to Portland upon the publication of her novel. The testaments the highly anticipated sequel to the handmaid's tale. We were super proud that we were able to make Portland one of only five stops American publicity tour not only Portland's reputation as a book town key but also Atwood and the late Ursula Kayla Gwynne where longtime friends and so. I do. Think the spirit of La- gwen was also helping us. Margaret Atwood has written over fifty works of fiction nonfiction and poetry starting in the nineteen sixties. She has one more prizes and awards the night time to enumerate here but perhaps suffice to say. Atwood's work has consistently combined urgent engagement with the most pressing issues of our time political social environmental with a level of artistic accomplishment singular in the literary world over the span of her incredible fifty plus year career her persistent and continued. Popularity speaks to the enduring relevance of her work at it was in conversation with Portland. Writer Omar L. A. Cod and there's something special about listening to a conversation between artists who are either ends of their career. In this case Margaret Atwood is one of our grandmasters of literary fiction and who at the age of eighty is still producing some of our best work? Omar Al Assad is journalist and writer and was lauded for his first novel American war which was published just two years ago. Here's Ellicott so al. Doing tonight I think we can work with that. Thank you so much for doing this. My pleasure as always. So here's the new book is doing pretty well. I'm Canadian not bad for those of you. Who Don't know. The testaments recently broke the record for highest first week sales in Canadian history since they started measuring watching. Watch a lot of previous interviews for for this one and there was one from I think early seventies it was TV. Oh the public broadcaster in Ontario and there are a number of very jarring things about this interview you're being interviewed on TV. Oh one of which being that in the entirety of the studio was covered. Shag carpeting for some reason. I don't know what the Hell is going on in Ontario in the seventies but everything was covered in carpeting and this was terrifying sidewalks recovered aesthetically irresponsible. I think and this this gentleman interviewing you repeatedly tries to get at this point of. When are you going to write? Nice women characters. Why where is all this cruelty coming from and finally say something to the effect of like look at what? Mordecai Richler is writing. Look at his characters. Has He ever been called cruel and I think one of the things about this incredible career that has spanned quite a long time? The amount of uphill fighting you had to do to get to a place where it was even where the work could be discussed as the work. I'm wondering if you've seen changes in that and if so how. How has it changed on a topic? Well people don't review my hair anymore quite a bit. We're the initial reviews that'd be in here and has gotten less interesting because maybe they just wouldn't dare call me. Medicis Nike Haired Person Anymore. But they did yes. Where would you like to start on that? Maybe with the Time magazine interview of Nineteen Sixty nine in which the Nice reporter who was wearing white songs and loafers and it was December. Send you telling a couple of interesting things. How do you find time to write? What with the housework and all whereupon I said Look under the Sofa so and then he said do men like you and I said why. Don't you ask them it was? It was a flip of the other. Question is to get all the time which was do you like men which one I would say depends which ones they're they're individuals just like people. There was one review. That was good old days. I was going to say there was one review I went back to. I went back and looked at the original views of the handmaid's tale and there was one review that was in my my belief in my pay old paper the globe in Mail And it was one of the most sort of quintessentially Canadian reviews. I think I've ever read by which I mean. It was generally favorable of the book but accused you of reaching too far. I was the strangest kind of Canadianness of like it was a good book which she should have set her sights lower. Which is just mind boggling to me. Do you remember the the initial sort of reception of this book? Well it was different from English. Speaking market to English speaking market so in England were then had a religious civil war in the seventeenth century and weren't intending at that time to have another one Not that what's going on there right. Now is a religious war but what would you call it So at that time back in the whenever was nineteen eighty five? They said jolly good yarn. What an imagination. So remember that the Cold War was still going on and Europe was very loathe to think of the United States as anything but the best interim freedom openness democracy fairness for all beckoning with open hands. That's how they actually thought of the United States because in contrast to what was going on behind the iron curtain a very shutdown place. I visited it at that time so England was jolly good. Yarn Europe was basically. It wouldn't happen and Canada was nervously. Couldn't happen here in addition to don't try so hard. Oh yes be more modest and in the United States. It was split it was. It was partly wouldn't ever happen here and on the other hand was. How long have we got? And that was in nineteen ninety-five free. So someone spray painted along the Venice Beach Wall in California. The handmaid's tale is already here and I did talk. Show in San Francisco and just to stir things up. It was the phone inch out of the guys that well. Of course you're joking aren't you? I mean nothing like that would ever happen here and the Switchboard Linda Christmas insane. Yes till people knew. Because it was the years of pushback against the seventies that was already happening and I was cutting out clippings one cut out then today one print out but I was cutting them out and people were saying already what they would like to do if they had the power. So you can go raid these clippings for yourself there in the Fisher Rare Books Library in Toronto. I was looking at some of them The Penguin Penguin Group published. Some of them I I was thinking a little bit about there was I was watching this short documentary where you were talking to interviewer and you're talking about. I think it was life before man and you're talking about how one of the characters in that book and I don't think you do this very often but it was based on a real person who was based on your friends and and that this and was such a terrible human being that you had to tone down in the book or else it wouldn't be believe I said to my friend. Can I use your engine my book and she said Go ahead. She might as well be is full. I'm wondering if when you write something like the handmaid's tale or the testaments and you're drawing on things like decrease seven seven communist Poland. What happened Argentina? These these events that happen to human beings whether you ever come up on a societal or political version of the same problem. That is just so all the time. And what are you all the time? Well you okay. So there's there's there's what is readable and the and then there's one happened so anybody who joined Amnesty International in Nineteen Seventy S. I did of that gave you a lot more information than you could ever ever ever is in a book and people writing novels about war novels about atrocities that they all have the same problem but that it's always worse in real life and it's it's worse and more so if you put it all in it would just it would be kind of overwhelming. You've got more of it in history books so I've been reading for some reason why I've been reading quite a bit about Stalingrad. Recently and I've been reading Vassily Grossman's two books about stealing Grad and there's also a history of it which is more like a documentary. So what was actually going on in? The history is worse than what's in the novel because when you're in a normal year following individual characters so you're not necessarily getting a pile up of of information anyway. Yeah I. I think it's a problem that any novelist dealing with anything outside. Shall we call it domestic drum? I think they're always going to have that problem there. There's a line in the testaments. Were one of the characters says something to the effect of you never think the sky is falling until the chunk. It falls on you and I. I was curious whether you think in this in this moment. Whether you're seeing something fundamentally new happening or sort of warped extrapolation of something. That's always been there or a little bit of both. I think it's a question of time and place so I said the handmaid's tale in Cambridge Massachusetts. Because that's the last place you would expect it or it was certainly the lies place. They were expecting it then back. They're required annoyed. Harvard was angry at you. They were peed. Tarver doesn't get angry at the beginning. They wrote kind of peeved review like the idea. Buddies hanging on the hovered wall would be so convenient so they've come around but I put it there. I put many things from different times and places and put them there simply because it annoys me when people say it could never happen here. There's there's no such thing it it whatever. It is could always happen here. Wherever here is given the circumstances and let us not forget that the Harvard started as a theological seminary in the seventeenth century of when the messages. It's called the knee was not a democracy not nor nor did it offer religious freedom. The usual story you get in school as the puritans came in search of religious freedom. Well that's true for themselves. But they were of quaker angers and I got to say that about them because some of them are my ancestors. Harvard finally come around. Yes they've come round. Yes they've been quite nice of recent years but but that may change once they read the test but it's just a question of repurposing buildings and you know that if you've traveled and Particularly Eastern Europe or even the history of Paris during them German occupation that a lot of buildings were re purposed. So this used to be the axe during the was the Y. And now it's back to being a hotel so I mean you know. Harvard also rejected my undergrad applications. So to hell with them. Good on you I having such a hard time wrapping my head around the constraints specific constraints of writing a book. Like this in a moment like this. Not only the political moment. But you have this TV series. That's going on at the same time that is covering similar ground. What is the interaction like? Did you shut everybody else out? Do you collaborate what? How is the process of writing? Okay so they show runner. Then maids tells this personal Bruce Miller and Brusca read the handmaid's tale when he was a teenager and vowed that when he grew up he was gonna do it and he did because he waited and waited and waited and waited. The story of what happened to the TV rights is a little bit like the Hobbit and that so the TV rights were attached to the film contract for the film that was made in eighty nine ninety and Then that film got sold to a distributor then the distributor went bankrupt than the assets were dispersed different. People bought them and it was laws to track of. Who actually had them so. The ring of power went into the mountain disappeared from view. And nobody knew that it was in there. All the time And then somebody opened a drawer and Lo and behold it was. Mgm was like surprise but main while people have been saying. Can we do something with as an I would say? I don't know who has the rights so once it was discovered that. Mgm had them. Mgm thought that maybe they might do something with it Renault in the present century and when it when it came up bruce lobbied to be the show runner and he knew the book so thoroughly that he got the job so he introduced himself and burst appearances about this. He would say hi. I'm Chris Miller. I'm the show runner of the handmaid's tale and I've got one Pena's too many but but but higher Delana women in Ireland of women so I talked with him. I have some sort of title. I'm not sure what it is. It's it's executive something or other which means something I I read the script. I make notes on them. I have no real power. I have influence influence So I have been fluent so I got home Bruce on the phone and or he gets hold of me and we have conversations about the notes that I in Britain on this grips but And he explains there's GonNa be something is GonNa do different. He explains why and what I said to him. In this instance was you may not kill and Lydia was going to be important. Whoa WHOA WHOA. It wasn't going to hands off that baby so like that. But he didn't actually read them the full thing until it was until he had done series three because he wanted to concentrate on what he was doing. He has a writing room general. That is a writer's room out to pull of writers. Not they're not allowed. Nobody is allowed end. They let me and once before they'd written anything on the whiteboards which surround the rooms. I mean they've let you do they let you do a cameo is let me do. They have sorry they knew better than to not let you do a cameo him. I was and they offered me a candy so this happens in a in a church gymnasium. I believe where they shoot this thing yet. They actually shot in the cellar of a church. So you're in this seller. There's cameras everywhere. Your job is to essentially walk up and Slap Elizabeth Moss. No I give her a bop on the back of the head. So they're repeatedly having to reshoot the scene because you're not hitting your heart is correct and they added a sound effect in the. I'm just curious. How often in your life do you look around? And just say how the hell did I get here like? This is such a surreal moment to go from this novel that you wrote thirty some years earlier to be in this place making a cameo in the new TV series about what is the best selling novel in the world. Thirty four years earlier. How Surreal is that? Is that moment older. You get the less surreal. Everything seems because you have seen the definition of normal change so much that you know. I've this is surreal. And so is this something else that surreal I think. The whole the whole period of history in which we live is pretty much surreal ended certainly very unusual compared to say nineteen. Pick a year. Let's pick nineteen ninety five a nice safe here. I don't think much is going on is some shopping. The Cold War was over and his it was the end of history. We were informed by. Somebody wasn't thinking very hard and And everybody felt that you know what you war was really the most important thing that has changed. There's this thing I think William Gibson said about this notion that the future is here but it's just not evenly distributed and he was right about that. Yeah but it's when it arrives in a big surreal lump that you think these are these strange times. There's that element of I mean. There's there's in my mind anyway. There's certain books that belong to the Pantheon of sort of speculative fiction of kind. There's brave new world nineteen eighty-four there's handmaid's tale that one of the things they all have in common. Is this notion that the warning they give is not heated and that's part of their longevity if people listen to people actually listen to what these books had to say and did something differently that it would affect the longevity of the book. That's True Yeah. You write a book like that hoping it will shortly be obsolete. That's what you hope. And while it is known things come and go so for a while I would say we. We used to have a kind of race going on in the race. Was which it's going to get here first. Brave new world or nineteen ninety four and now I think we've got a combination of both of them but for a while. It looked in the nineties. It looked as if brave new world was winning. Yeah but it didn't remember where you were when watching election night. Do you remember what the circumstances were now? Which election night are we talking about? The only one that has ever been it. Feels like these November twenty sixteen. We'll I was on a plane. Yeah so I was on a plane going to Europe so I I went to bed on the plane. Thinking that I don't know I- unseen their their their closing speeches on television and Having grown up next door to Marshall McLuhan there's some people have very good television presentation and other people who don't whatever you may say about him. Donald trump has a television manner. Like he looks at because he's had a lot of practice on it so I'm feeling a bit iffy. He but then awoke up in another country in the morning. And I and everybody involved. In the handmaid's tale series had the same thought and the thought was we are now in a different show. Not that anything about the show is going to change. The frame head changed and it would be viewed differently and that is what happened. What stage of the process of writing this book? Where you're at. I was at the conceptual note making wastebasket stage. How about this no? We'll maybe this know like so. That goes on quite a bit. I wanted to ask. This is a complete tangent. I Apologize There's a half cents in this book that I absolutely loved as describing lunch and then the person talking describes lunch something like a dry sandwich and something ruinous. That had been done to tomatoes and made me think line that I heard you say this in one of your interviews that there are essentially two types of writers their writers who let their characters eat and their writers who don't let their characters eat and as I'm going through the sensory experience of of reading this book I was thinking about that. I'm just wondering is the process of writing. Is there joy in that? Or is the joy in having written. Where's the most joyous part of the fun whereas the fine okay I would say the fund is is for me? The Fun is is in writing no matter what the content so so definitely did a book called the WHO is a fund raiser. We were raising money to start. Canadian Penn Penn being the Writers Rights Organization which is International. There's now a very effective American Penn So we needed to money to to start and put together. Something called the. Ken Lit Food Book in which I took scenes from novels and poems in which people aid things and arranged them according to the meals breakfast coffee lounge he dinner funerals cannibalism. A that and I did that myself because it was cheaper and then I went to the authors and recipes from them. Some could cook. Others could not cook but they gave me recipes anyway. So one of them gave me recipe for toast and Mike Lynn Dot. She gave me a recipe for grapefruit. Works out and somebody else gave me one which involved a a large frozen fish a chainsaw. I don't even remember what the Hell I was asking you about to begin with this best interview I've ever been a part of. I was going through your website. And there's a couple of really interesting things about it. One one of which being that when you click on awards the first thing the website asks you pick a decade can't possibly fit everything on on one page but there's so many works across such a broad spectrum of the most read Margaret Atwood Book in our houses up in the tree which I believe we have some small children. You would hope so. I explain to everybody. You may not know. Read this dental work and is of voting for very small children which came early on in the history of Canadian publishing. There there weren't there weren't children's books being published in the Seventies. So I I I wrote it. I lettered it because it was cheaper. And I've illustrated it but we could only afford to colors for the printing rather than the customary three so I chose the blue and the red which together gave this weird shade of purple and that is why that book is the colors that it is and this was in the in the seventies was asked by my two year old. Why did they go up in the tree in the first place? Those very good question. Tell them tell the two year old because they didn't have a real house. I think your safer from bears. Is there any project that comes along? That you initially. You'd think this is just far too weird and then you change your mind on. Curiosity gets the better of you constantly. Will you mean that comes into my head so usually what happens with those is? I think this is too weird and I'd try to do something. More quotes normal which then fails so that is that. Is the unconscious telling you that you have to write the weird thing that would be the handmaid's tale. I started my notes on in Nineteen ninety-one then I thought this is Marta. Weird and I sat set out to write this more usual type of novel which went nowhere is there is replace. You keep the ones that go nowhere and you know it's going to stay there. You're not going to go back to it. It's called a drawer is dryer full or empty or somewhere there. A couple drawers. Yeah so so. It's not because my parents went through the depression. You never threw anything out because it might come in handy so big balls of string. It's like the drawer those reading an essay where you talk about the I. I believe the first literary conference you ever went to as a teenager. One point you talk about the the first writer. Whoever came to high school? Who is this gentleman who came up on stage recited a few poems about skiing from memory and then imitated? A crow have made quite an impression. I imagine and then you talk about how you you Never WanNa be in that position in. The line uses something like as soon as I was able. I was going to hit Paris and become incomprehensible That was the days of existential ISM. Yeah it's also the new line I use whenever I leave a room right now. I'M GONNA go to person. Comprehensive as it was in Paris that a literary person said to me in a sneering tone so you right Za best sellers and I said not on purpose but there was. There was a time when you decided you wanted to become a journalist and then your family brought along a second cousin who was a journalist to transfer his way. Do from absolutely yeah. Did they ever try to do the same when you said okay? I'm going to write literary fiction. Did they ever bring someone to where we didn't have the term literary fiction then dear? Thank you for that. Nobody had invented that yet? It was just called books. You know which is probably. Why don't you know? I don't think it's John Right over here. Real books over here is good books. And so yeah. Those were the days and what the second cousin said. Because this was the fifties he said well. Yes you can. You can write for newspapers but if you do write for newspapers you will be riding the ladies pages and the obituaries. So not put me off the other. Some unkind critics mayhem said that. That's what I've been doing anyway but never yeah so then I was going to. What was I going to do then? I didn't have a period when I was gonNA write something called writers. Marcus and I looked in the back where it said what you paid. Because that's what writers markets was and what you got paid. The most for was true romance stories. So that I can do this wrong. And you got paid the most for those who is going to write those daytimes and then I was gonNA write my death-lists works of Literature in the evenings. But that plan did not go anywhere because I was not good at writing the true romance stories. I was okay with the plots. Those are quite simple. The Guy with the motorcycle the other one who works in the Che's door wrong choices are made things happen on the Sofa. We're in those days described with rows of dot and I couldn't do the dots so just could not bring myself then I was going to. What was I gonNA do was GONNA go? I really was gonna go to Paris and limited Garrett learned to smoke wrong. I never could do that. drink absinthe. Get TB as one as one person. Yes while back. I was going to Guantanamo Bay to cover the military trials and I was really scared because you know this. Guy Named Omar go into Guantanamo Bay. We're not tempted to change your name. I've often been mostly. Tsa Lines at the airport is Is when that temptation but then the decides to send a cameraman named Osama suddenly all the pressure is off. So anyway this story's going somewhere. I promise not anywhere particularly good. But it's going somewhere and so one one night. Osama and I are wandering around camp justice which is the tent city where they keep the reporters and we find the wreck tent. Which has checkers board and happens to have this ping pong table and Osama says do you want to play some ping pong. Say sure whatever so we start playing. It turns out very quickly I discover. That Asama was an alternate on the Egyptian Olympic Ping Pong Team. So very quickly. I'm now using the pedal for protection more than anything else and if occasionally the ball should go back across the net and great. He gets to hit it behind his back or something. And it's not thinking a lot about that going into this interview Terrible Ping Pong player. It is sorry we're jumping all over the place. It is a really spectacular book. An moves with this incredible velocity and it moves on space that for me as a reader is sacred space. I mean the handmaid's tale was a book that made a huge difference in my life. And there's always a sense of trepidation when you see even even the TV show you see this thing and you think as I think as as kind of selfish reaction from readers. This is mine. Don't you know? Don't you know that this is but assisting book that moves such an incredible way and I'm wondering when you're writing it. Do you have. Because this is predominantly told from the point of view of three people. The vast majority of the book is from these three points of view but it very much switches sides and lets. You know what happens in this place. Was that there from the get go. When you decided to go back and write the sequel. Yes and is it you so you go there and then you you sort of what changes the most in terms of your initial conception versus the final product? Okay some characters. Were easier to write than others. So one of the my really had to take several runs ended and If you're a novel writer you will know that one of the most important things to deal with this is Biz these structure of the book. So there's there's the plot what happens and then there's the structure of the book. How you tell what happens. And in what order But that's just you know those are craft matters. Do you have a first reader or does who gets to see IT I. This one was a very unusual set of circumstances because from the get go sinister forces were trying to steal it and what they're going to do with it. I'm told is they. Were going to put it up online and get people to give them their credit card information so it was going to be used as a fishing lure so we were going through all sorts of Special drop boxes in passwords. And all of this kind of thing to prevent this from happening so ordinarily I would have I would have had several. Raiders aren't in the business. So outside raiders. And I like to have that because they represent readers so they they Don't have any skin in the game so by depend on them. Usually of tell me the truth this time we had a group of editors from three different countries and those were the first readers and they remained the only readers for quite a while because they were afraid of this leaking and I would have felt terrible. If a lot of people's financial information had been removed from them and is able ways to deprive them of their their money the same Publishing House people were telling me that they've never had as many hacking attempts. It was it was amazing. But it was it was it was letters purported to be from people inside the end history with a but if you look at the email address that might be just one letter different from primer real email address so they were very cleverly done the the conditions under which he wrote this book it wasn't written in one place. It was not. Is that the norm for you or it. Is You wrote part of it on a train and wrote prior to but in a dome car was that we won. We won as a door prize a trip across Canada on via rail so there we were going across Canada on being real. There's a lot of Canada. Yes the unofficial national anthem is a song called. Canada's really big by a group called the arrogant worms you can find it on Youtube So there was actually quite a lot of time and space to to do. Those new can write quite well in the Dome Car with your laptop prompt up on your knees and every once in a while you can have a scenic view and then you can have another scenic view and then you hit the prairies. And it's forty hours of more rapid across the prairies. Yes sorta go quite fast but then you go up the rocky mountains you wind up and up and down down. Your relationship with technology is just fascinating to me. I you have somewhere in the. I don't know how many million twitter followers this point but do you remember how how you I embrace that that technology don't think embrace quite the word learned about so yes. I was building a website for a novel of mine called Near the flood was just after the big financial meltdown. So I thought I think I better do this. Because the publishers are running around screaming and they're they're fewer in number than they once were so I actually built a website for that book and did a A launch that was a musical and dramatic and Conservation Fund. Raising launch was peculiar But it lends itself to that because of the flood there. There are a number of God's gardeners hymns so we can. We can have a musical note which we did and the people building the website said you need to have a twitter feed and I said what is that and they said Oh. It's something this new thing. It's really easy. We will show you how to do it so actually had a twitter coach. Guy Called McLean graves. He he Is unfortunately no longer with us but he was nearly twitter user. Ne-near quite a lot about it. Any he helped get rid of the for other people who were purporting to be me. There were tweeting. These really saw things that I would never tweet. I mean they weren't being unpleasant but they were being very sugary and so it could not be. They had to go. What's the ratio of of sort of positive twitter experiences versus the guy who came on to try and explain the handmaid's tale to you in your replies? I don't consider that a negative experience. I consider it a learning experience for him. I think his intentions were the best he just didn't happen to realize that. I had written embarrassing up. I think mostly positive for me because I just don't I've gotten into a few what are called flame wars but not very many. Is there a new generation of leadership that has engaged with you primarily through that medium? I don't know because I because I can't ask to every one of them How did you come to this book? I think quite frankly. A lot of them have Have been introduced to my work in in high school because it goes to be taxed. I was kind of horrified by that one. I I found out about because you know. This is a pretty rough book. In some ways in Shirley these young people might be too young for it but apparently not and then I think of what I was reading when I was that age. Okay they can read it. I've been handed a car. That simply says Cuna which means that. It's your turn. I think what we're going to do. Excuse me I think we're we're going to do and somebody correct me if I'm wrong is we're going to take questions on note cards. So right him hand him out to the ushers who are going to be going down the aisles. I have some here. We'll get some more and we'll get to it quite ready. Got Quite a few these. Were just the email ones and there's going to be more. What is your favorite Ursula? K League Win Story or novel well acquainted view of them. A I'm quite partial to the earth. Seen trilogy yeah I understand. It's a different kind of book from the left hand of darkness which is pretty keen on. I I did a An retrospect to about her for the New York Review Books Awhile back which like go through some of these books but also this burst of creativity that she had She she wrote those very close together. They're quite it's quite amazing. This is signed a young writer. Dear Margaret How do you silence your inner critic okay? Here's how nobody is going to see what you write on your pieces of paper unless you allow them to so just do it. That inner critic should not be in the room with you when you were doing that. Writing the inner critic can come along later when you're revising but when you're first writing it's just you it's the it's the page it's the ideal raider and a you can always throw it out if you don't like it. This is a question about the future library project mature involved which is absolutely. It's such a brilliant. Such a brilliant idea. What what is it like to write a novel? That won't be read for one hundred years. Okay so I don't tell you about the Future Library of Norway Project which you can find Online Future Library Dot N. O. End It's the brainchild of conceptual. Artists called Katie Paterson. Who IS SCOTTISH? And she works was slowed time projects so the venture in Library of Norway. A forest has been planted Norway that will grow for a thousand four hundred years and in each year of that one hundred years a different rider from around the globe in different languages will submit a secret manuscript two copies only and nobody else gets to read it and it has to be made of words no images so can be a word can be a poem it can be of noble it can be a short story can be of diarrhea can be a letter can be anything made of words and you're not allowed to tell what it is you can tell the title and the name of the author of in the hundred the year the boxes will be opened and enough trees will be cut from the forest that will have grown to make the paper to print the future library of Norway and when we launch this in two thousand fourteen it got a lot of interest because it's such a hopeful project of it assumes there will be a Norway that the trees will have grown. There will be a library. There will be people people will be able to read in. The people will be interested in reading and those just one great big huge ball of hope right there so so what was it like. I think there are two kinds of writers. Kinda that would say. Are you out of your mind? I'm not gonNA write anything can't publish now and then there's the other kind who has children buried things in jars in the backyard and that would be me just thinking that maybe somebody in the future would get a thrill load of digging them up so. I've always been interested in archaeology. Quite thrilled whenever somebody discovers the new something or other that that they've dug up So I said yes immediately and I said there's something you need to add to this mix in that would be our Kabul paper because otherwise they'll open. The box will be just little shreds like my copy of South Pacific right now. It's just completely decayed So so I took it on. And what was it like to do it? Well it's like writing in general. It's just that the interval is somewhat longer so when you're writing anything there's always a gap between you writing it and somebody else reading it. That's just the way writing is not like being an opera singer in which the audience and the person doing the art are in the same place at the same time so with writing. You're always in a different place in a different time. So other than that she Katie wanted the whatever you wrote to have something to do with time and something to do with words. That's the only constraint the other constraint was the you have to go to Norway with with this box go through customs or I was afraid they were going to say what's the bugs and then I'd have to say I'm not allowed to tell you that then I would get arrested. I could not think of a better question to end on. What is your favorite bird and place to go birding? Well now my favorite burn is probably the raven the most intelligent of birds or the or the loon the most haunting of birds sounds. You WANNA SAMPLE. Now please okay. We'll just do the eerie call. That echoes through the twilight. When one loon is trying to contact another loon and goes who ladies and gentlemen? Please join me in thanking Margaret Atwood. That was Margaret Atwood from illiterate special event in September. Two Thousand Nineteen this has been literary arts the Archive Project. It's a retrospective of some of the most engaging talks from the world's best writers for more than thirty five years of Literary Arts in Portland. Join US next time for the Archive Project Literary Arts Production in collaboration with Oregon public broadcasting to hear more from the archive project. Subscribe wherever you get your podcast support for the archive project is provided by Cole. Haan on a mission to fuel your big ideas more on Cole. Haan Dot Com. Our show is produced by crystal the gory for radio. And podcast special. Thanks to the Literary Arts Staff Board and Community. The show would not be possible without them. Thanks also to the band emancipator for our theme music and thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Andrew Procter and this has been another edition of the archive project from Literary Arts. Join US next time and find your story here.

Coming up next