My first weekend in New York, I was lucky enough attend BookCon, which is basically exactly what it sounds like: ComicCon for books. Book nerds, publishers, and authors flock to a convention center in New York to sell, buy, and just generally nerd out about the books that we love.
I was lucky enough to attend a number of panels with a number of incredible YA authors who are promoting diverse texts, but one of the most interesting panels I got to attend was one with Margaret Atwood (the incredible author of The Handmaid’s Tale) and Bruce Miller (the showrunner of the new Hulu TV adaptation of Atwood’s text). The two sat down and basically discussed how The Handmaid’s fit into today’s social climate.
For those of you who don’t know, The Handmaid’s Tale is about a near-future dystopia where a religious, patriarchal regime has taken control of the United States. This novel has gotten a resurgence in interest because of the current state of the US and a re-release of the novel for the Hulu adaptation.
Atwood wrote a new introduction for the new edition of the text, and in it, she spoke of how she hoped that the text didn’t get banned at any point soon. This new introduction was one of the main focal points of conversation. However, one of the most interesting elements of this discussion was the way that they discussed totalitarianism, both in the real world and in the novel.
Atwood said that every element of the novel was based in a real-life event and one of the challenges she set for herself in that novel was to not write of any horrors that didn’t stem from a real atrocity.
She went on to point out that the fact we were discussing the novel was proof of the fact that we had not yet entered a totalitarian regime, which was really interesting to me, because so much of the discussions of this novel and the series is surrounded around the narrative of how topical both are. However, she did not say this to discount the terrible nature of the times, and with that she touched on the privileged position she was in as an author.
Though is she often labeled as “a revolutionary,” she insisted that the real revolutionaries of this battle were the ones who worked full time to resist. She said that she was simply incredibly privileged as an author—especially an author as talented and successful as she was—because she was able to get up in front of people and speak openly of her discontent with such times without being fired from her job or being put in a similar situation. She said that she was lucky in that way but that there was also a responsibility for authors like her.
With this responsibility seemed to be where Miller best joined the conversation. He underscored the importance of staying true to the text. He commented that one of the most controversial scenes of the series was when he showed a woman’s period.
However, he also discussed the delicate line he walked in the show of portraying women’s suffering without turning it into a fetishization of such pain. That’s one of the things I’ve been most questioning the “correct” way to represent such horrible events. It is important to vocalize horror so that people understand that there are terrible things in the world, but artists need to do so in a careful way.
I think Atwood does an incredible job of doing so in her novel, and I am interested to see how the show decides to represent the novel.