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Margaret Atwood: 50th Recipient of St. Louis Literary Award

Victoria Segovia

Victoria Segovia

Emily Miller, News Editor

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On Tuesday, Sept. 19, author and poet Margaret Atwood joined the ranks of many literary giants who have received the St. Louis Literary Award. The ceremony was opened by the President of the Saint Louis Library Associates, Lana Pepper, and also included a speech by the Chairman of the Selection Committee, Ted Ibur.

As a writer, Atwood has never shied away from heavy-hitting topics within her works. In her MaddAddam trilogy, she tackled issues such as genetic engineering, ethics in science, climate change and corporate greed. In “The Edible Woman,” the main character struggles with alienation and a loss of her identity. And most famously, in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood addresses power dynamics and women who have been subjugated by the society they live in.

In her acceptance speech, Atwood specifically spoke about the recent protests in the St. Louis area and the current issues with the police. While some visiting performers such as U2 and Ed Sheeran canceled shows due to the protest, Atwood altered her acceptance speech in order to  directly address the issues many are having with the police.

“Every country has police. They are supposed to serve, protect, arrest potential but not proven criminals, and turn them over to the justice system for trial. That’s a hard job with a lot of pressure,” Atwood said. “But a country in which the police act as judge, jury and executioner is a police state.”

In her speech, Atwood cautioned that the change from democracy to a police state is not a swift change, but something that happens in steps due to the actions of the police and the society accepting those actions.

Countries do not become police states overnight. They get there by steps.” Atwood noted. “One step after another is tolerated and accepted, so then that the bridge between democracy and the police state will be crossed, and then that bridge will be burned.”

Atwood also urged listeners to pay attention to issues involving police brutality and discrimination, saying “Please honor your own pledge to the flag – liberty and justice for all. All means all. Justice means not merely the administration of laws – the Nuremberg Laws were laws, the Fugitive Slave Act was a set of laws, but just and fair laws upheld and administered without discrimination. Please don’t settle for less.”

Atwood frequently covers the issues of police militarization and civil disobedience within her works, especially within “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In her speech, Atwood also stressed that she does not write dystopian novels, and that her novels should be looked at as potential futures and many have plausible explanations.

In her acceptance speech, Atwood also defined what art meant to her. “Who is art for? What is art for?” Atwood said. “Learning, teaching, expressing ourselves, entertaining, enacting truth, celebrating, or even denouncing and cursing. There’s no general answer.”

Atwood also discussed the roles of art in society and the role that people like to give her in art, saying “There are acceptable gender roles in the arts as in other facets of life, and there are some fairly strange ones available to women. By available, I mean that people feel free to project them onto you without feeling they are doing violence to the limits of your gender.”

The presentation of the St. Louis Literary Award finished with a brief question and answer segment moderated by Jennifer Buehler, a professor in the School of Education at SLU. Questions came from the audience and Buehler and covered a variety of different topics such as “The Handmaid’s Tale” at the Emmy’s, works that Atwood has been unable to complete, and how being raised by scientists has affected Atwood’s way of writing.

Atwood has several more upcoming adaptations of her works. “Hag-Seed,” a retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” is currently being discussed for adaptation into a play at the Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green before appearing in theaters in St. Louis. Another,  “Alias Grace,” will be premiering on Netflix on Nov. 3. Atwood herself will be featured in a 30 minute show that will be released on Oct. 9, and 9 p.m. on Channel 9.

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Margaret Atwood: 50th Recipient of St. Louis Literary Award