By Teresa Branch-SmithTeresa with Margaret Atwood.
Listening to Margaret Atwood, one of Canada’s literary titans, read an except from her upcoming works proves that ‘story time’ can indeed be epic. Not possibly any taller than 5’2 and dressed in a long red sleeveless coat with striking collar to frame her recognizable grey hair and clever smile, she has a commanding presence that had nothing to do with her status as the guest of honour.
Margaret Atwood has had her birthday dinner in collaboration with Laurentian University for the last seven years; however, this is the first time the celebration has occurred at Science North where close to a hundred people attended. Most were of an older generation or affiliated with the English department from Laurentian University that hosts the event. Featured prominently though, were members of the Native community whom Ms. Atwood has taken a vested interest in including in the festivities as a means to encourage awareness of their culture. In fact, a portion of the proceeds from the event goes towards building the Indigenous Sharing and Learning Centre on campus to be completed by 2017.
Once, the apple cider was finished and the dessert coffees and teas were made available, the stuffed dinner guests were invited to relax and watch a video by Debajehmujig- storytellers. The mockumentary traced the making of The Society of the Margaret Atwood Society of the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve of Manitoulin Island and the Surrounding Area otherwise known as: MASOTWUIRMIASTSA . Intentions were honourable even though some of the camera work may have been a little shaky, but because it was created with such an earnest appreciation for Ms. Atwood’s literary accomplishments and admiration for her character, the audience smiled without reservation.
Never out of touch with popular issues, Ms. Atwood is all for the fantastical. Her upcoming works are dealing with literal femme fatales as werewolves, recounts of bigfoot and the ever popular zombie apocalypse. From the two brief excerpts, these werewolves are not the sort that needlessly take off their shirts to reveal flawless abs in order to better chase sparkly things. These creatures are sinister, territorial man-eaters, that wear stilettos by day and their date’s blood by night.
The only thing that could dare compare with the vicious werewolf hunt she described was the truly awesome recount of a trip to the bank in the middle of a zombie ridden town. To offer a taste of the disgust to come, she described the protagonist driving over a brain-eater who had previously jumped on her windshield as making a gurgling ‘amphibious’ sound post hit and run.
With Ms. Atwood, because of her enviable skill at vividly describing the world of her imagination, listening comes all too naturally. For this reason, we can all look forward to this version of the apocalypse and a compulsion to check out what else is on the old English reading list besides A Handmaid’s tale.