Instead of going away
from Gilead, as everyone thought
we were doing in the ’90s,
we turned around and started going back
towards Gilead. And we know that if you give
people unlimited power and no checks and balances,
they will behave badly. – Today we’re gonna have
a conversation with…
– Ms. Margaret Atwood. First name, last name,
Margaret Atwood. About “The Testaments.” – I’m excited…
– To find out what makes
Ms. Atwood tick. She’s kind of the Canadian
literary queen. And as a Canadian myself,
I can’t wait to deep dive
into talking about this book.( music playing )– Hi, everyone. I want you
to meet Margaret Atwood.
– Hi! – Hello.
– Hi. I’m Evelyn. Margaret,
as you know, “BookTube”
is a vibrant community of readers who come to YouTube
to share their love of books and reading and learning. And we are so excited to be
gathered here with you IRL to discuss your latest novel
“The Testaments.” Now,
“The Testaments” is a sequel
to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which was published
more than 30 years ago. Can you tell us
why did you write the sequel,
and why now? People have been wanting me
to write a sequel – for a long, long time.
– Yeah, yeah. And I wasn’t gonna do it,
and then a couple
of things happened. Number one, instead of
going away from Gilead, as everyone thought
we were doing in the ’90s, we turned around and started
going back towards Gilead. – And by “we” you mean…
– I mean– – …real life.
– In particular,
the United States. – Cheryl: Mm-hmm.
–( music playing )This outfit that
the handmaids are made to wearhas become a symbol
of the women’s movementin the United States.
What do you think about that?Margaret:
Well, it started in Texas.It started in Texas. There was a moment
when a lot of men in dark suits
were gonna sign into law – legislation restricting
women’s bodies again.
– Again. Again.
So, these women decided that they would put on
the handmaid’s outfitand go and just sit
in the legislature.As a protest,
it’s quite brilliant,because nobody
can kick you outfor creating a disturbance.–Nobody can kick you out
for dressing immodestly.
–Right.But everybody looking
at it knows –what it means.
–Mm-hmm.So, that’s where it spread fromin this iteration. What happens in
“The Testaments” is you get three different perspectives
on the concept of good and evil and the choices we make
and why we make those choices. So can you talk
about your experience with writing
about human behavior and what it is about us that creates
“The Testaments”? Okay, so there’s
four kinds of stories. Ordinary people
during ordinary times, ordinary people
during extraordinary times, extraordinary people
during ordinary times, and extraordinary people
during extraordinary times. An ordinary person
in ordinary times doesn’t usually get to choose,
doesn’t have to choose, between good and evil. So, totalitarian regimes
stick it to people about the choices. What do I do? Do I go along with it? Do I resist overtly and get shot immediately? – Do I join the underground?
– Yeah. Of course, we all think
we would be quite heroic. – We may be wrong about that.
– I feel like the character – we’re really talking about
is Aunt Lydia.
– Yes. Margaret:Well, she’s the leader
of the Aunts contingent,the enforcers of women
in Gilead.In “The Handmaid’s Tale,”
which I just reread, I was very much like,
“Gah! She’s such a villain.” Then in this book, we see
from her actual perspective. And you learn
what she had to go through to
get to this point and what decisions
she’s making, and how, ultimately,
she’s hoping to try her best to bring down Gilead. As with “Handmaid’s Tale,”
I put nothing in that I didn’t have
historical references for. And there were a number
of people like this bothin the Nazi regimeand in the Stalinist
regime in Russia.There’s an interesting book,’cause I read a lot of books about World War II.Himmler had a masseur.Himmler suffered from all these
strange aches and pains.And this massage guy was
the only onewho could alleviate
his suffering. So he would get Himmler
on the tableand then he would
get promises out of himto save this person
or that personwhile he was doing
the massaging.So, you would say
that he was complicit
with the regime, sure, but from within it,
he was doing these savings of people. My name is Ariel Bissett. I’ve been making
YouTube videos since 2011, when I was very lonely
and needed someone
to talk to about books. I can finally talk
about this feminism stuff. Growing up in Canada,
Margaret Atwood is very much one of the literary icons
of our country. It’s so cool that basically
our biggest author is a woman writing
badass fiction. I wanna ask you
about the most powerful moment
in the book for me. It was the moment
where I was just– I felt so viscerally there. And it’s when Agnes
first walks in and sees
a pile of books and asks,
“Why are these so flammable,
so ruinous?” Right? So I wanted
to ask you why did you decide to take away
the right in Gilead for women to be able
to read and to write? What makes them so flammable
and so ruinous? Uh-huh. Okay, so they got
their right taken away – because people have had that
right taken away in history.
– Mm-hmm. And most noteworthily, under
slavery in the United States, – it was illegal for slaves
to read and write.
– Right. So if you read the biography
of Frederick Douglass,
for instance, that moment when
he learns to read and write, it’s very, very powerful. So reading and writing gives
you access to knowledge that other people
don’t want you to have. – Right.
– And that is why regimes
try to control, censor, burn,
destroy any books that might contradict them. Gilead goes all the way
and makes it impossible for women to read and write because then they can tell
the women what’s in the Bible, – although it isn’t necessarily.
– Right. And when she starts
to read it, she realizes, – “This is not what I was told.”
– This is not what I was told. – Right.
– Exactly. I have a feeling you actually probably know
the exact percentage of how many women there are
in the world versus men. – 51.
– See, I knew
she would know that. So I just wanna know, patriarchy– I’m just like,
how did this happen? A long, long time ago, there were
hunter-gatherer societies. And in hunter-gatherer
are far more equal. But then you get
the advent of wheat. What do you need
to grow wheat? You need upper body strength. What do you need
to defend the wheat? You need a standing army
to defend your territory. The other thing you need for this kind of setup
is more children. to help you farm the wheat. – Mm-hmm.
– Whereas hunter-gatherer
society is limited to their populations. So, this is
not nature’s plan. It’s not inevitable. It happened at
a certain time in history. Rationales were then made up
for why it should be so, as they are for any kind of
power structures that benefit – the top slice, which is
who writes the texts.
– Right. – Mm.
– Right? But change is happening now
because… Women: Yes. Indeed, so let’s talk about
you working that keyboard. We would love to hear– We’ve gone back
to ancient history,
the beginning of patriarchy. What about the beginning
of Margaret Atwood? Like you, I grew up
in the wilderness
of northern Minnesota. – You grew up in Quebec, right?
– Northern Quebec, yeah. And I’m curious
about how that shaped you as a human and as a writer,
your time in the woods. – Did you have electricity?
– I did not have electricity. I did not have indoor plumbing,
I didn’t have running water. – Then you understand
– Yeah. I know.
Well, I feel very kindred
with you in that regard. I mean, people
think of my experience
in the wilderness associated with my book “Wild,”but it actually began
much before that.That’s what I was curious– about your girlhood
in the woods.
– Okay, self-reliance,knowing where you are,
so you don’t get
lost in the woods.Cheryl:That’s right.Never throw anything out
because you might need it. – That’s right. Or duct tape.
– Never know when you might
need a little bit of wire. We didn’t have duct tape, dear. Okay, I’m the next generation. Pieces of string.But also no television,
no movie theaters, no school,–no library.
– Cheryl:Hardly any people.–No town. Hardly any people.
–Yeah.But we did have books,
and we did have– I don’t know where
they got them,
’cause it was wartime, but we did have some paperand pencils and crayons.And we did a lot of drawingand writing
of these little books.And I think
that therefore the bookbecame my one art formthat I really
had any access to.We’re all dying to know
about the beautiful
exterior of this book. So on the front here, we have a woman
who clearly lives in Gilead. And on the back,
we have a woman who clearly
lives in the promised land. – Margaret: And then there’s
the hidden girl. Yes.
– Women: Yes. And there’s a hidden girl
on the back. – Interesting.
– A hidden girl on the back? – Wait, maybe I missed it.
– Where is she? – I see it.
– Margaret: There’s the hat.
There’s the girl. – We’re trying to find
the hidden girl on the back.
– Wait. Oh, wait. The ponytail.
Missed that. The cover of the book
is by Noma Bar. And when it first arrived
it was– this part was pale blue. And I thought it looked
somewhat cold. So I changed them
to spring green. – Love it.
– Got out my crayons
and colored the cover. One of the things
that has happened since “The Handmaid’s Tale”
has been published is the world has very much
read that book. They have also seen
a movie adaptation of the bookand now a television show.Did you have to
do some coordinatingin terms of those characters? Margaret:
We didn’t want to do anythingthat was directly
flatly contradictory – to what was in the show.
– Right. That was a bit difficult
because I was writing
the book in advance – of them writing
some of the show.
– Mmm. – But I can talk with
– Wow. …and say,
“I need you to not kill
Aunt Lydia, please.” – Cheryl:
“You must keep her alive.”
– Margaret:Yeah.You refer to the work you do
as speculative fiction, not science fiction
or regular fiction. – Not fantasy.
– Can you talk more about that? Not fantasy, yeah. So, if you think
of a line that descends from Jules Verne
in the 19th century,who was writing about
submarines and big balloons.And then from Jules Verne,
we have “Brave New World,”we have “1984,”
we have “Fahrenheit 451.”That’s the family of stories to which “Handmaid’s Tale”
and “The Testaments” belong. Did you read those books
as a young woman? Of course,
and many others besides. Do you remember the first book that you read in this category
of speculative fiction? It was probably
“Animal Farm,” except that’s
more like a fantasy.But, of course,
I read it as a childand I didn’t realize
that it was a political satire.– Yes.
– I thought it was
about real animals, and it just ruin–
absolutely ruined me. My name’s Evelyn,
and I go by Evelyn From
The Internets online. Me? I was fly, skin glistening
in the Louisiana sun. I like to call myself
a digital storyteller. I feel like I’m repping
for the 24 to 34 black women in the U.S.? Margaret and I are gonna do
some lightning round questions. Are you ready? All right, favorite book
or author as a kid? – Pick an age. Eight, okay.
– Eight. Eight I was reading
a lot of Andrew Lang. “Red Fairy Book,”
“Green Fairy Book.” He had all
of these fairytales. What did you wanna be
when you grew up? – Okay, at which age?
– Eight. When I was eight.
I didn’t have a lot of ambitions
when I was eight. – Let’s take 11.
– Okay. 11, I was gonna be
a famous painter. – Ooh.
– Ooh. What’s your favorite
time period in history? Henry VIII is endlessly
fascinating to read about, but it would’ve been hell
to have been actually
in his court because your head
would be next to roll. What’s your biggest
pet peeve? My biggest pet peeve is people
who do not acknowledge or understand that
we are in a climate emergency. In “Handmaid’s Tale,”
it’s an environmental crisis. And I’m curious why you wanted
to have the environment, – because you are
– Yeah, true. Is that an important topic
to think about how that could be
a contributing factor
to that leading– – Because everything’s
– Yeah. And you’re seeing that
right now. So you’re seeing
climate emergency, things get warmer,
food supplies go down, There are crop failures,
there are famines, there are hurricanes,
there are floods. And all of that
affects food supply
and social stability. As things stop working,
people become angry and fearful, and they think
it’s somebody’s fault. And they think
if they can overturn
whoever’s in charge and put somebody else in charge,
that it will get better. – Yeah.
– But we know that if you give
people unlimited power and no checks and balances,
they will behave badly. We have seen that
time and time again. – Mm-hmm.
– That’s why there should always be checks, balances,
oversights on any kind of power. Left to its devices,
it just gets worse. What I noticed and I love
is that you put song
into the story, and it feels very real
and it adds so much
depth to the world. How did you, not even just
come up with the songs,
but how did you find the right place in the story
to put the songs in the story? Every culture sings. It stood to reason for me, number one, that the Aunts would
have liturgical songs, and also that children
would invent songs and dark rituals. That’s why it’s so rich. That’s why it adds
so much depth to the world. Because it’s in the world. So, a little happy
version of childhood with no awareness
of darker motifs is not going to feel
real to us at all. ‘Cause we’ve been children.
We know it’s not true. Hi, my name is Amerie and
my YouTube channel is Amerie. I’m a writer.
I am a singer-songwriter. One thing I love is having
an extensive library. And that doesn’t mean
grabbing anything, it means grabbing things
that I think not only
will interest me, not only that
I will hopefully enjoy, but also things
that I may want to re-read. The most important thing
when you’re reading literature is to see humanity at its best
and at its worst. I wanted to ask
if you wouldn’t mind sharing
with us the last line? The last line is… And it is a quote,
as you know, from The Bible, and it is from
the Song of Solomon. It makes it so admirable
that you’re an optimist and that you’re able to maintain
this hope about humanity. But I see a lot of good things
that they do, too. Some people do some
quite brave things, which some of us
would also do under
the circumstances maybe. But we don’t really know, faced with impossible choices
and difficult decisions– we don’t really know what
we would do until we’re there. I was so moved
by the end of the book. When I read the last page
I was on an airplane, and I burst into tears – at the last line.
– Aww. Did you cry after
you wrote that final line? Did I cry? Well, tears were shed during
the writing of the book. You’ve written about a society where evil has prevailed
for a long time. And what we see, I think,
so much in “The Testaments” is the testament to love
and a great sense of hope. Well, there is hope. The hopeful part is
that Gilead did not last. The open question is
what replaced it? – Mm.
– Margaret Atwood, thank you so much for joining us
on “BookTube” today. – And thank you all.
– Thank you. It’s so much more fun
to discuss books with friends. – Yes.
– So, thanks for being here,
all of you. – Thank you.
– Thank you. – Are you making
your own little tubes?
– Yes. – Are you an “influencer”?
– I am.( music playing )