MARGARET ATWOOD is having a musical moment. First, the CanLit doyenne made a foray into pop music, contributing lyrics to As Smart As We Are, a literary-themed album by New York rockers One Ring Zero. Then, the Canadian Opera Company chose to open its new season with The Handmaid’s Tale, a Danish opera based on her dystopian 1985 novel. Now Atwood is collaborating with Winnipeg composer Randolph Peters on an original opera set in 2750 BC. Has the eminent novelist found a new calling?
Did you ever anticipate your career branching off into music?
No, I never expected it, though I did write an opera in high school. It was a parody, The Home Economics Opera, about three fabrics—Orion, nylon and Dacron.
Do you play any musical instruments?
I once taught myself to play the recorder, but it was a struggle for everyone else. I sang with Robertson Davies on one memorable occasion—something of our own composition called Anything You Can Write, I Can Write Better. Neither of us could sing. There were cries of “Keep your day job.” It was at a PEN fundraiser. I only do these things for such occasions. There’s no other excuse.
Some critics have described The Handmaid’s Tale as a cautionary tale for Americans in light of the post-9/11 clampdown on civil liberties. Do you agree?
Nobody can actually prophesy. But you can predict tendencies. When I was writing the book, I was looking at what was right in front of my nose, but history repeats itself.
What’s your take on the U.S. election?
The scariest thing is that the United States is severely in debt. If they go down, we go down, and the world economy goes down.
Why then are things like patriotism and family values more front and centre?
You know what? If you’re dead broke, you can’t support much of that. Even family values tend to go out the window when mom’s on the street doin’ the hookin’.
You’re attending the opening night performance of The Handmaid’s Tale?
Yes. The show’s a knockout. You kind of stagger out of it. Now I want to make one out of Oryx and Crake.
Wow, I’d like to work on the set.
Yes, but how many people would paint themselves blue and scamper around onstage?
I think you’d be surprised. So, any further pop music ambitions?
Well, who knows.
Or maybe something entirely unexpected from you-like hip-hop?
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