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Margaret Atwood and Mona Awad on Writing

Margaret Atwood and Mona Awad on Writing Outside the Lines

The authors met in person for the first time during their shoot for T’s Culture issue. “The photographer had to tell us to stop talking.”

Interviews by Kate Guadagnino

Margaret Atwood: I’ve been an admirer of Mona’s novel “Bunny” (2019) for some time. It’s a form of Gothic satire, and she sets it at a writing school. It’s very funny, kind of horrifying and quite far outside the lines. You think, “She’s not going to go there … yes, she is.”

Ideas about writers were so thin on the ground when I decided to be one. I was talking to somebody else about this recently and said, “People like you and me went into it out of ignorance.” And she said, “Had I only known, I never would have!” It was kind of like walking across Niagara Falls blindfolded without knowing it. And then people would say, as they did in my presence, “Well, of course women can’t write.” This was the mid-60s. Luckily, I was in Canada, and Canadian writers were so bottom of the heap they were willing to become friends with anybody, even if they were female. So writers of my generation in Canada were making it up as we went. We made up small publishing companies. We made up little magazines. We made up writers’ organizations. Because few of those things existed. Creativity moves in to fill a vacuum.

If I were going to give a workshop, it would be on dealing with negative criticism. I’m in the habit of telling first-time novelists who’ve had some success, “Within one year, you’ll receive three vicious personal attacks from people you don’t know, and your friends will divide like the Red Sea, with one half not being able to stand your success and the other celebrating it. It’s not personal.” Also, reviews are reviews. They’re written by individual people, not God. You might learn some things about the book you’ve already written, but once you’ve published a book, unless you’re really a cheater, you don’t change it.

Mona Awad: I first experienced Margaret’s work in high school, when I read “Surfacing” (1972). I loved how wild it was — and it was Canadian, which was exciting to me as someone from Montreal. All her early novels are so Gothic and strange. She was playing with so many different story traditions. My book “Bunny” owes a lot to her in that respect. Read the full interviews at the New York Times Style Magazine.

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