“You’re not here yet or you wouldn’t talk to me,” Atwood told an American Associated Press reporter, laughing over the phone. “You’d probably be in solitary confinement or something or dead… How dare you talk to a woman on the phone and write about her?”
Atwood said she believed Americans were aware of the dangers of undermining the U.S. constitution. “This is what separates you from an absolutist dictatorship,” she said.
“And if I were a gambler, which I naturally am a bit of, I would bet on American pride and refusing to line up,” she added. “So I don’t think you’re going to make people walk easily at the same time… You could get it, but it would be difficult.”
Sharon Rab, founder and chair of the Dayton Peace Literary Prize Foundation, hailed Atwood’s popularity with writing that also educates people on pressing issues of social justice and the environment.
“Margaret Atwood continues to remind us that we can’t count on ‘this can’t happen here’; anything can happen anywhere under the right circumstances, and right now, with growing disregard for democratic institutions, its lessons are more vital than ever, ”Rab told The Associated Press.
Atwood’s longtime partner, novelist Graeme Gibson, died aged 85 a year ago this month. Atwood, 80, said she tried to stay busy after the loss, promoting books and other travel until the pandemic wiped her out in March. Since then, she has signed thousands of inserts and bookplates to support independent booksellers and has lectured via Zoom.
She sees herself as a realist, but an optimist, because “if you’re pessimistic you don’t do anything … I think these are realistic but optimistic people who are really trying to change direction.
Atwood published her first book of poetry, Double Persephone, in 1961. Since then she has published 17 novels, including Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin – for which she won the Booker Prize in 2000 – and the trilogy MaddAddam. The Testaments, his 2019 sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, was one of the best-selling books of the year.
The Dayton Prize features a prize of $ 10,000 (£ 7,700). Previous winners include John Irving, Gloria Steinem and Elie Wiesel.
The awards ceremony, originally scheduled for October, has been postponed to spring 2021 due to pandemic precautions. Atwood will be joined by the 2020 Fiction and Non-Fiction Award winners, whose finalists will be announced in October.