Personal, UK

The Hay Festival: Meeting Margaret Atwood

Well, as if beginning the ‘Triple Merge’ and planning our wedding in one weekend weren’t enough, Ali and I took a road trip from Little Gidding, England to Hay on Wye, Wales. We had wanted to visit this town since we had heard about its reputation as a “Book Town” and once I disovered that The Guardian Hay Festival would begin the weekend I was in the UK to do wedding planning, our plans now included driving nearly across the country to Hay on Wye, just over the border into Wales.

We scrolled through the program on separate computers while speaking on skype and with some last minute arrangements, Ali purchased tickets to see two speakers: Margaret Atwood: The Canadian poet gives us her inversion of Homer’s Odyssey, retold by Penelope and the twelve handmaids Odysseus slaughtered on his return from Troy, Dido and 20 years away from his palace. and Shashi Tharror: The novelist, essayist (Bookless in Baghdad) and UN Under-Secretary General gives the first of the 2006 lectures on terrorism: Terrorism, Tolerance and the Global Imagination

You can guess which one was my choice.

Ali and me waiting for Margaret Atwood to take the stage.

Writing that I was ‘very excited’ about hearing Margaret Atwood would be an understatement, as I have read at least a half a dozen of her novels. She is probably most famous for The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, and The Blind Assassin. I have read these as well as Cat’s Eye, The Good Bones and the beginning of Oryx and Crake. She is one of my favourite authors and I eagerly anticipated being a member of the audience to listen to her speak about her new novel, The Penelopiad.

Margaret Atwood spoke with humour, wit and sarcasm which brought both Ali and I to laugh out loud. She read from three different sections of the book as well as answered questions at the end of the reading. Afterwards, we stood in line for an undetermined amount of time in order to purchase her new book and have it signed.

I tried to warn Ali that I get a bit silly when I am about to meet a novelist that I admire. I have a track record of saying really ridiculous and sappy things. I recalled meeting Maxim Kumin while still in university. I ooed and awed over her collegue’s writing, Ann Sexton, who had long ago committed suicide. I felt ridiculous afterwards and meeting Margaret Atwood would prove to be no different. Instead of cool, calm and nonchalant, I appeared to be sappy and extremely grateful to have been allowed the opportunity to be in her presence. Ridiculous, I know. I was even too nervous for Ali to take a picture of us together. I didn’t want to appear to be a googley-eyed fan, apparently, I just wanted to sound like one.

It is as though I am a child meeting her favourite cartoon character, I can’t help it. For me, writers are celebrities and I am much more keen – and nervous – to meet them. I feel I need to extend intelligent remarks within the thirty seconds that we share the same space and when it doesn’t happen I kick myself for sounding googley-eyed and childish. If I ever have the opportunity to meet Alice Walker (I have seen her speak) then I will certainly approach her with a prewritten greeting.

End Note: Was it me and my nervousness of being cool enough in front of Margaret Atwood, or did she really look Ali up and down as she referred to the many different spellings of his name as she inscribed his book? My praises may have fallen on otherwise occupied ears, as Mrs. Atwoord took notice of my man. Perhaps she missed my silliness altogether and Ali was an unknowing accomplice in this. Oh, but we will never know.