“I have qualified optimism”: Margaret Atwood talks exclusively to Stylist

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Margaret Atwood

With the release of her new poetry book Dearly, Margaret Atwood talks to Slay in Your Lane’s Yomi Adegoke about what the year has meant to her. 

If there is one woman who knows a thing, or nine thousand, about the state of the world, it’s Margaret Atwood. And this week the acclaimed author talks exclusively to Stylist, which you can download on the App Store or Google Play.

“I have qualified optimism,” Atwood tells Stylist as she discusses the crucial recent US election that had the world hooked on the news cycle. “These are not normal times in that country. But if you look at its history, it’s hardly ever been normal times there. It’s never been a country where everybody has agreed with everybody else. The plus of that is it’s going to be hard to put in a real dictatorship. But the minus of it is, someone’s going to try!”

Bernardine Evaristo with joint winner Margaret Atwood at the 2019 Booker Prize Winner Announcement.
Bernardine Evaristo with joint winner Margaret Atwood at the 2019 Booker Prize Winner Announcement.

The Canadian writer who has recently released new poetry collection Dearly, has a literary legacy of over 50 years taking in before-their-time themes including the ownership of female bodies, misogyny and technology.

In 1985 she released The Handmaid’s Tale, set in the totalitarian state of Gilead, about  a young woman with only one function: to reproduce. Series four of the terrifying and brilliant TV drama based on the book will be released next year, while The Testaments her best-selling follow-up to the novel, co-won her the Booker Prize with Bernadine Evaristo in 2019. She has always been vocal about what she believes in from LGBTQ rights to climate change, and though, as a Canadian, she wasn’t able to vote in that election that saw the ascendance of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, she has been invested as us all. 

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Margaret Atwood makes a cameo appearance in The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood makes a cameo appearance alongside Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale.

 “The election feels like a dodged bullet but not like the end of bullets,” she tells Stylist. “The political climate is coming to resemble – to this oldie – the polarization of the 1930s, with extremes at both ends frightening the moderates, who get shot at by both sides. Not new in world history or even in America, but worrying nonetheless. And compounded by the rising tide of Covid, which is unsettling civic order, and by the effects of climate change, ditto. Fertile grounds for dictators. Be prepared.”

Margaret Atwood in Stylist magazine
Margaret Atwood in Stylist magazine

Atwood also won Icon of the Year award at Stylist’s Remarkable Women Awards in March 2020 and said to us, of receiving the award: “Women’s rights, the health of the planet, inequality of wealth – I remember these themes from my own youth in the 60s and 70s. For a time they appeared to vanish, but they just went underground. And now, it seems, they are back. Despite their mole-like habits, writers are sometimes lucky enough to be granted a public presence by their readers, and when that happens they are often asked to use their voices in aid of others, and of causes crucial to the health of the planet and therefore the human race.”

It’s not all politics on the agenda, also in the interview Atwood talks to Stylist about her writing process, hopes for the future and her surprising lockdown viewing habits - hint it involves Sarah Michelle Gellar. 

To read Margaret’s interview in full, download Stylist magazine on the App Store or Google Play. Pricing for our digital magazine starts at 99p for a single issue, or £21.99 for a full year’s subscription. 

Dearly: Poems by Margaret Atwood (£14.99, Vintage) is out now

Images: Luis Mora, Channel 4, Getty