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Author Margaret Atwood meets with members of The Globe and Mail's editorial board to talk about culture and upcoming federal election. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Author Margaret Atwood meets with members of The Globe and Mail's editorial board to talk about culture and upcoming federal election. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

At the editorial board

Margaret Atwood, uncensored Add to ...

Mr. Bardeesy: Before he entered politics, Michael Ignatieff had a job similar to yours, as a writer.

Ms. Atwood: Writing isn't a "job," by which I mean you don't have an employer, so you can't be fired.

Which is why it is me sitting here today saying it, and not a couple of million of other people or more who would be saying exactly the same thing. Because if they were here saying it, people would look at them funny and it might impact their job.

Mr. Bardeesy: What do you think happens to writers who have that independence when they enter politics?

Ms. Atwood: OK, so writing and "writing." Michael has written some books, is that the same as being a writer? Was he ever a freelance? No. He always had another job. Is it the same. No. It's not.

If you look in Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, and look at the chapter on money, there are only a limited number of ways in which you can support your writing habit. And they are: having a patron, that would include grants; inheriting money - I recommend it; marrying it - also good; having another job - the T.S. Eliot fallback position; or supporting yourself through the marketplace. Those are the options.

I do the final one, lucky me. I am one of 10 per cent in North America.

So not may people can actually support their writing habit through the marketplace.

Under having a patron today would fall grants.

Somebody tweeted me today saying Picasso didn't need grants. Actually Picasso had a patron. Who would that have been in his early years? It would have been Gertrude Stein - did you know that? I bet you didn't.

James Joyce had an affluent patron who supported him through Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake.

We don't seem to have many of those patrons in Canada, although we've got some. We tend to do it in the form of awards.

I was talking to a guy on the subject of copyright. He was in favour of the "don't pay writers for their stuff" option. At least not in universities. And I said, how do you think writers could therefore make a living and he said, "Couldn't it be a grant system?" And I said "Absolutely not," because then immediately you have favouritism, and you certainly don't have the market deciding anything.

Mr. Fine: The U.S. has a MacArthur Foundation - genius grants.

Ms. Atwood: I know. And we don't. And they are amazing. And this many

Mr. Fine: You talked about Orwell and Koestler. Can you mention other writers of have been of interest to you?

Ms. Atwood: Beatrix Potter. And I'm not being frivolous. She is a great stylist. Mistress of indirect discourse. Reading between the lines.

Going on up through the list, who do you want to know? I am addicted to reading, I read all sorts of things.

Mr. Fine: When you were a young writer?

Ms. Atwood: Which age?

Mr. Geiger: How about [Aldous]Huxley?

Ms. Atwood: Oh yeah, I've written an introduction to Brave New World, I've written an introduction to the Island of Doctor Moreau. I've written introduction to She.

Mr. Fine: Around the time you were writing your first novel?

Ms. Atwood: Oh, [The]Edible Woman? My first novel, actually happily for myself and the rest of the world never got published.

Mr. Gorham: Where is it right now?

Ms. Atwood: It's in a drawer.

Mr. Gorham: Which drawer?

Ms. Atwood: It was influenced by Marshall McLuhan. There was a lot of advertisements in it.

I was one of those people who luckily was able to obtain a copy of The Mechanical Bride, early on. you know that he had to pull off the shelves - do you know this book at all?

He reproduced a lot of ads, from soap companies and cigarette companies and everything. He showed the actual ad, and then he would do an analysis of them. And it is very funny.

But the companies who's ads they were took exception. Copyright issues. And he had to pull the book. But he had them in his cellar and if you had contact you could purchase one out of the back window of Marshall McLuhan's house - so The Mechanical Bride, a piece of genius.

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