Tag Archives: Margaret Atwood

On Margaret Atwood, Flawed Characters, and Connection

This blog post was written by library patron Dana Bell, after the recent Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures visit from Margaret Atwood. Thanks for sharing your impressions, Dana!

At sixteen years old, most of my friends were spending afternoons draped over their beds singing with MTV’s Total Request Live while dreaming about Gavin Rossdale (I hear he is currently free again, although it be weird to drape yourself over a twin bed and dream about him while reading Tiger Beat). I would be lying if I said that that sort of activity hadn’t taken up a small portion of my time as well, but a far larger portion of my time was spent escaping my own personal dystopia by immersing myself in the speculative fiction of Margaret Atwood.

This is something for which I have thanked my English teacher, Judith Totty, numerous times. You see, when I selected Ernest Hemingway for my end-of-semester author project, and she nicely but firmly denied my request, I was forced to select Margaret Atwood. She said to me, “Dana, I know you like classics but you need to read Margaret Atwood. I’ve already assigned her to you.” She couldn’t have predicted how life-shifting this author would be in my world.

bookcover (1)Margaret Atwood is a hero. She writes stories about real people. People who have been broken. People who have defined “resilience.” People who have faced pain and hurt and kept moving even though the situation is less than hopeful.

In writing real people, she captures what it means to be human and to have the human experience, because — let’s face it — humans are not “all good” or “all bad,” as she stated in her lecture on October 28, 2015 at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Lecture Hall, after someone in the audience expressed concern over HBO picking up Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy.

The questioner wanted to know how much creative control the author would have and stated that her major concern was that they would potentially make the character Jimmy (the protagonist of the first book in the series, Oryx and Crake) a “good guy” instead of a “bad guy.” Atwood contested that Jimmy was merely human and hadn’t the questioner ever “met someone like him in real life?”

While she shared in the concern of feminist undertones and meaning potentially being stripped from the story (something she admits she has little control over), she disagreed that her characters are definable as good or bad, saying “I have no interest in writing angels.” She even discussed how she’d had a young man read through Jimmy’s character to give her tips on his authenticity, of which the young man could only come up with two: the first being the semantics of how to use profanity, and the second being how to properly smoke a joint. Otherwise, the young man was curious as to how she had pinned him down so well.

One might wonder how Atwood knows us (fans, ordinary people, broken people, etc.) so well. Perhaps it is because she is so in tune with us and our world. She tweets regularly (with nearly a million followers), remains tied to environmental activism and is always aware of the most current political news; in fact, she is often tied to that political news bookcover(check out #hairgate on Twitter in conjunction with the article “Stephen Harper’s Hair Problem”).

And, as she highlighted on October 28, she spends a large portion of time researching. For her current novel The Heart Goes Last, she came back to research she did for Alias Grace (one of my favorite books) that involved the for-profit side of prisons.

Although all of that should give her substantial insight into the human condition, I myself know from studying anthropology that historical research is not nearly enough to hone in on the essential nature of a culture, nor the way we as humans respond to it, and neither is watching the news or discussing politics or ideals with people. Someone who truly wishes to understand people will collect so much more than the passing opinion. They will collect the motive, the connections, the psychology behind all that they do and encounter. They will absorb elements of a culture and turn those elements over in their head and think about the significant roles they play.

I think Margaret Atwood’s skill in character writing comes from her ability to listen and remain open and engaged in her research and in life, and in some ways she succeeds in forcing us to do the same. She is changing the world by placing her readers in the role of anthropologist. Her books are a catalyst for processing a number of feminist and ethical quandaries. By showing us realistic, albeit dismal, situations, we observe humans like ourselves facing actual issues, making logical mistakes and thinking sometimes disturbing thoughts. We are forced to witness and remain open for the entirety of the story (which we don’t often do in real life) and are often left with more questions when the final page is turned, which allows our wonderful brains to mull over the more philosophical questions raised.

I think it is her firm grasp on reality and human nature that draws so many of us in. The lecture on October 28 sold out in about six hours, and there was not a single empty seat in the lecture hall that evening. I told my mother that morning, when expressing that I was on day two of a migraine, that I would have to be in an ambulance to miss seeing and hearing Margaret Atwood speak. No one forces me to think quite as freely and deeply as she does, and it is refreshing.

It was also refreshing to be at an event with literally hundreds of people who feel as much admiration and appreciation for an author as I do. I was no longer the girl sitting on my bed reading, aware of how different I was from my peers. I was surrounded by people who are just like me and just as excited.

As my husband and I made our way to the signing line, I struck up several conversations with other admirers. There is something about talking to another person who reads what you have read that breaks the awkward barriers of being a stranger. We’ve walked to the Paradice Dome together, we’ve witnessed Offred’s longing for human touch, we’ve peeled apples with Grace Marks at midnight on Halloween and lived to tell the tale.

Conversation between nerds of the same fandom is truly a beautiful thing. Some of the people I spoke with stated that this was one of the most epic events that the library has hosted, and I have to agree. While I have been to past events, there is nothing like having a classic author in your city, at one of your most beautiful libraries, making you laugh and think and talk with strangers. It was beyond wonderful to hear Atwood read from her latest book but also to be connected with other people with similar interests I might otherwise have passed on the street without a word.

Collage of photos taken at the Margaret Atwood lecture and signing on 10/28/15, provided by Dana Bell.

Collage of photos taken at the Margaret Atwood lecture and signing on 10/28/15, provided by Dana Bell.

The signing line was fairly quiet, reverent even.  I watched as she quietly signed hundreds of books, interjecting wit here and there as people spoke to her, though many were rendered speechless. When I made it to the front of the line, I am pretty sure I was anything but articulate (I may have even said “Wow” or “Oh my god”), but she smiled and seemed to appreciate my sincere thank you and the small gift and card I sheepishly gave her. In her own open and understanding way, she allowed me to be my weird brand of human (in this moment a total fangirl, complete with loss of speech, something I am not used to). That night, I fell back into who I was at sixteen, draping over my now queen-sized bed and diving into The Heart Goes Last, very happy in the knowledge that this time, I would not be alone.

-Dana Bell

I want to say a very special thank you to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures for hosting this event. Meeting Margaret Atwood has been on my bucket list for a very long time, and it is because of these associations that I had the chance. I also want to thank Classic Lines Bookstore. I lost my copy of The Blind Assassin years and years ago and was so happy you had it for sale at the door.

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A Tale About Me, My Coworkers, and Margaret Atwood

As a fairly recent newcomer to Pittsburgh (four years last month, which might as well be four minutes when talking with native yinzers), our city’s vibrant and exciting literary scene is something that continuously impresses and surprises me.

The novelty of this should be worn off by now, given that my employer is one of the organizations that contributes mightily to this bookish culture of awesomeness that we have going on in the ‘Burgh.

But maybe it’s because I work for the Library that I revel in this so much.

We’re incredibly lucky to have access to so many prominent writers who regularly visit Pittsburgh. We work closely with our friends at Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, who offer events such as the Monday Night Lecture Series, PA&L Kids and Teens and Authors on Tour, a new collaborative initiative between our two organizations that presents authors who are on a national publicity tour, either with a new hardback or recent paperback book release, to Pittsburgh audiences.

After one such gathering, a coworker and I were chatting about upcoming concerts lectures.  (Um, why yes, I absolutely do consider literary lectures by writers I love to be akin to rock concerts.)

Anonymous Coworker dropped a name of someone who was “a strong possibility” for an upcoming appearance. That’s all he divulged, but that was enough to sustain my hopes.

Lo and behold, Anonymous Coworker was correct … and on October 21, none other than MARGARET ATWOOD will be here. In Pittsburgh. At the Carnegie Library Lecture Hall.  FOR. REAL. If you don’t believe me, go here. I’ll wait.

(I was right, wasn’t I?  You’re welcome.)

When I started fangirling like nobody’s business at my desk, Anonymous Coworker #2 confessed that she wasn’t quite sure who Margaret Atwood was.

(She is not, I should mention, my coworker who does not believe in the very real phenomenon that is Mercury Retrograde.  Which we happen to be in right now, thank you very much.)

“You don’t know who Margaret Atwood is?” I gasped.

I then started putting my college English degree to good use by pontificating about the prescient genius that is The Handmaid’s Tale, which I consider to be one of the best books ever written.

The Handmaid's TaleSet in the not-too-far-off-in-the-foreseeable-future society that is the Republic of Gilead (formerly, the United States), Margaret Atwood’s 1987 novel is one of the count-’em-on-one-hand books I’ve read more than once.  It’s a chilling story, a thought-provoking novel about so many things: women’s rights, the influence of religion in society, relationships, politics, identity, betrayal, forgiveness, power and control. There are so many themes running through these pages. Indeed, that’s one of its criticisms: some say that Atwood’s prose tries too hard to have the book serve as commentary on too many issues.  But that’s part of what makes a novel a classic, in my view, and I truly believe that The Handmaid’s Tale is definitely a classic.

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in college, around 1989, shortly after it was published. Offred made a strong, immediate impression on me, one that I remembered when I re-read the novel in 2011.  I remembered that Offred had once been married and had a child. I remembered her relationship to and her purpose for the Commander and that Offred wasn’t her name.

“My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter. I keep the knowledge of this name like something hidden, some treasure I’ll come back to dig up, one day. I think of this name as buried. This name has an aura around it, like an amulet, some charm that’s survived from an unimaginably distant past. I lie in my single bed at night, with my eyes closed, and the name floats there behind my eyes, not quite within reach, shining in the dark.”

What’s striking about The Handmaid’s Tale is Atwood’s description of life before the Republic of Gilead — We were a society dying of too much choice.” — as well as specific events leading up to the formation of the Republic of Gilead. (“That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.”)

A mention of the president being assassinated was particularly chilling, given the political climate today, as well as the mention of a catastrophic, tragic event (9/11?) that befell the country.  The pollution of the rivers and dying off of the fish was poignant, too, given environmental disasters like the BP oil spill on the Gulf Coast.

Another thing that caught me off guard was how much Offred, before, was like so many women today.  She was a wife and a mother.  She worked full time.  She went grocery shopping.  She wore a bathing suit. And just like us, these everyday simple things that comprised her life were taking place amid a culture of sensationalism and a media smorgasbord that thrived on constant diet of the outlandish.

“The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives. We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.” 

Sound familiar?  Probably, because most of us are also living the kind of everyday lives where our actions don’t make the news.

For all of the oppression and denial of freedoms contained within The Handmaid’s Tale, one of the primary messages is a hopeful one: even though there will always be people hell-bent on silencing another, there will always be ways to make yourself heard.

“Well. Then we had the irises, rising beautiful and cool on their tall stalks, like blown glass, like pastel water momentarily frozen in a splash, light blue, light mauve, and the darker ones, velvet and purple, black cat’s ears in the sun, indigo shadow, and the bleeding hearts, so female in shape it was a surprise they’d not long since been rooted out. There is something subversive about this garden of Serena’s, a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light, as if to point, to say: Whatever is silenced will clamor to be heard, though silently.” 

So, this post is for my coworker who isn’t familiar with Margaret Atwood.  And maybe for you, too, if The Handmaid’s Tale is one that you haven’t read either.

And when I think I am starting to forget, I’ll re-read it one more time.

For more information about Margaret Atwood’s appearance on October 21, visit Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures at http://pittsburghlectures.org/special-events/margaret-atwood/

ETA 10:21 a.m.: this event has sold out.

~ Melissa F., who is trying within the next 30 days to read every single thing Margaret Atwood has ever written

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Sharp Short Stories

Short story collections are a great way to get to know an author, and reading them is a win-win situation: if you enjoy the tales, you can see what else s/he’s written; if you don’t care for them, you haven’t wasted a lot of precious reading time. Short story collections are also a treat for people who already love an author, and are pining away for her/his next novel.

There have been a number of really solid short story collections released this year. Here are three that pair nicely with the cold, dark winter ahead of us.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel. Quiet people leading Mantelquiet lives that suddenly take turns for the uncomfortable, supernatural, or just plain deadly are the meat and potatoes of this collection. They’re all outstanding, but my favorites were “Harley Street,” which, up to the very end, pretends to be one kind of story and then suddenly turns into another; “The Heart Fails Without Warning,” which reads like an homage to Kate Chopin‘s “The Story of an Hour”; and “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher,” which plays fast and loose with English history. Available in print, audio book, eBook, and eAudio.

AtwoodStone MattressMargaret Atwood. Atwood can do terrible just as nicely as Mantel can. However, her terrible tends to have spots of sweetness, melancholy, or other gentler emotions mixed in as well. This tone is set with the fantastical “Alphinland,” which is then followed by two stories that occur in the same universe to the same characters, forming a lovely little world I would’ve liked to see more of. Other highlights include “The Freeze-Dried Groom” (not a metaphor) and “Torching the Dusties,” in which an elderly woman with Charles Bonnet syndrome must flee an attack on her assisted living facility (uncomfortably plausible) with the help of a fellow resident. Available in print, eBook, eAudio, and Playaway.

Spoiled Brats, Simon Rich. Rich sticks it to the clueless and the entitled with this richwickedly funny collection of tales, narrated mostly by characters who have no idea how clueless and entitled they are. Rich doesn’t let himself off the hook, either: two of the stories feature a character named Simon Rich who is unpleasant as all get out (one of those tales, “Animals,” is narrated by a classroom’s pet hamster). Other highlights include “Gifted,” which satirizes privileged, pushy parenting, and “Elf on the Shelf” (’tis the season, after all). Available in print only.

Dark fiction for dark nights, in easy-to-read bites!  Are you a fan of the short story form? Who are your favorite authors? Read any good collections lately?

–Leigh Anne

 

 

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Somewhat Obsessed With Canada

I think about Canada a lot. Not constantly, mind you, but more often than on those occasions when somebody gets upset about something that’s happened in U.S. politics/culture and threatens to move there.  It stymies me that Canada simply isn’t on most Americans’ radar. I mean, it’s right there, but it hardly ever crosses our minds. Nor do we learn about it in school. At least, I didn’t. Kudos to you and your teachers if you spent longer than one day in social studies pondering a Canadian curriculum. All I know about Canada is that it has trees, maple syrup, and hockey and that Margaret Atwood‘s visions of the future are Somewhat Bleak. I can also name a handful of random celebrities who hail from there, but this doesn’t exactly make me Jeopardy champion material.

Clearly, this ignorance will not do, especially since Alice Munro recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature, thus forcing me, you, and every red-blooded American citizen with even a drop of conscience to learn a thing or two about our neighbors to the immediate north. Let’s get cracking!

Quick Facts

Make the Government of Canada portal your first stop, to get information directly from the folks who live and govern there. Contains sections on culture and the arts, individual provinces and territories, history/genealogy and much more.

The CIA World Factbook is a nifty website to know about if you need fast, credible data on a specific country. Did you know that Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867, has an area of 9,984,670 square kilometers (making it the world’s largest country that only borders one country) and maintains 3.2 hospital beds and 2.069 physicians for every 1,000 people (last measured in 2010)? Très intéressant!*

Canadian Geographic, a publication of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, is a great all-purpose journal for initial leisure reading/research about Canada. For other national publications, as well as province-specific journals, click here.

Non-fiction/Reference

For a quick peek at the Carnegie Library’s research holdings, grab your library card and search for Canada in our digital general reference resources. The Gale Virtual Reference Library, in particular, is a smashing way to learn more about a given topic without leaving the comfort of your home (which is key for getting smart in spite of snowfall). If you can make it in for a visit, search Reference Universe, too, which will allow you to search inside all those books on the shelves and only open the ones that will be truly useful to you. Kids (and parents!) should test-drive the Grolier encyclopedias, as well as the World Book Almanac for Kids.

If you’d rather take something home, you’ll be happy to know that Main library alone holds over 2,600 books on Canada. Here are a few collection highlights:

folkloreFolklore of Canada, Edith Fowke. You can tell a lot about a nation from its mythologies, fairy tales, customs, and other folkways. Fowke’s collection includes tales from tribal/aboriginal cultures, as well as those of French and British origin.

A History of Canadian Culture, Jonathan Franklin William Vance. Vance’s work, which won the Lela Common Award culturefor Canadian History, covers quite a bit of ground, from Inuit clothing design to the Barenaked Ladies. That’s a lot to swallow, but Vance also explores themes and concerns common across eras: what does it mean to be Canadian, how should the arts be funded, what role does/should copyright and other forms of artist recognition/compensation play? A roller-coaster romp of a history book.

illustratedThe Illustrated History of Canada, Craig Brown, ed. A popular book that has been released in several editions, Brown’s work includes engravings, lithographs, cartoons, maps and posters, as well as photographs, taking this text to the full extent of what “illustrated” can mean. Though it only contains six chapters, each one is written by a prominent historian or geographer, which efficiently augments your knowledge of, say, native cultures or the history of U.S./Canadian relations.

Canada’s Fifty Years in Space, G.G. Shepherd. Wait, what? If, like me, you did not know Canada had a space program, pick spaceup this volume and prepare to be amazed. Just one of the many niche history books you’ll find in our collection, Shepherd’s chronicle tells the story of the Canadian Space Agency, the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), Canada’s involvement with the NASA Phoenix mission, the ISIS-II satellite and much more. What does that mean? It means science, my friends. Loads of space-tastic science. A keen read for space geeks.

Fiction/Literature/Culture

Want to read books by Canadian authors? Here are some writers and titles you should try on for size, recommended by actual Canadians!**

Robertson Davies. One of Canada’s best known and most popular authors, and a distinguished man of letters known for his work as a playwright, journalist and critic, to boot. Start with The Depford Trilogy, then take a side trip into criticism to ponder The Merry Heart: Reflections on Reading, Writing, and the World of Books.

Will Ferguson. Best known for his witty observations on Canadian history and culture, Ferguson frequently takes on an outsider’s point of view to paint a more robust picture of his subjects. Try Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw.

Margaret Lawrence. Not only one of Canada’s most prominent novelists/short story creators, but also a founder of the Writers’ Trust of Canada. Make sure to seek out The Stone Angel and The Diviners.

Stuart McLean. This host of CBC Radio‘s “Vinyl Cafe” has been described as “the Canadian Garrison Keilor.”  Although he has written serious pieces as well, he’s best known for his humor. Take a gander at Secrets From the Vinyl Cafe.

Louise Penny. If you’ve met Armand Gamache, well, then, you already know. If you haven’t completely fallen in love with the man–or with the bucolic town of Three Pines–start with Still Life.

Gordon Korman. This Canadian-American author writes for children and young adults. The first book in his well-liked “Bruno and Boots” series, This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall, grew out of an assignment written for English class when he was just twelve (!) and was published in 1978, when Korman was only fourteen (!!). Since then he has written over 75 books, so you’d best get started with “Bruno and Boots” right now!

Tanya Huff. A sci-fi / fantasy author with seven series under her belt,  a handful of stand-alone novels and a solid handful of short story collections as well. Because it was adapted for television, some people may be familiar with the Blood Books series, which pairs private detective Vicki Nelson with vampire/author Henry Fitzroy for crime-solving shenanigans. Start with Blood Price.

There: I feel somewhat smarter already. Obviously there’s more to learn, and I’m sure plenty of you could take me to school on the subject. So, spill: what should I know about Canada? What do you know about Canada?

–Leigh Anne

currently jamming to Moxy Früvous

* Very interesting. French is one of Canada’s official languages, and is spoken primarily in Quebec, with a smattering of usage in New Brunswick, Ontario, and in smaller indigenous communities throughout the country. Click here for details.

**Many thanks to my Canadian Facebook contingent, who graciously contributed authors and titles to this blog post!

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An Old Dog Who Doesn’t Enjoy Poetry Learns a New Trick (Enjoying Poetry)

I’ve never been a fan of poetry. I read it in high school and was an English major in college so I read it there, too. Feeling like poetry was something I should know more about and enjoy, years ago, I bought Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize. I never opened it and ended up donating it. I was exposed to poetry on a regular basis by life and by myself, but had never really found a poem that excited or spoke to me until a few weeks ago when I was looking at a blog and stumbled onto this Margaret Atwood poem from Selected Poems, 1965-1975.

We are hard

i

We are hard on each other
and call it honesty,
choosing our jagged truths
with care and aiming them across
the neutral table.

The things we say are
true; it is our crooked
aims, our choices
turn them criminal.

ii

Of course your lies
are more amusing:
you make them new each time.

Your truths, painful and boring
repeat themselves over & over
perhaps because you own
so few of them

iii

A truth should exist,
it should not be used
like this. If I love you

is that a fact or a weapon?

iv

Does the body lie
moving like this, are these
touches, hairs, wet
soft marble my tongue runs over
lies you are telling me?

Your body is not a word,
it does not lie or
speak truth either.

It is only
here or not here.

If I had been reading this blog a couple of years ago, I would have already known that Margaret Atwood wrote poetry (I just knew her from her fiction). I may have also heeded Leigh Anne’s words of “…If you do not like poetry, I strongly suspect is simply means that you have not yet found your poet. Or maybe it’s just one poem, your poem, buried somewhere in the stacks or lost in the tangled web of the internet…” This is my one poem. (I had been listening to a lot of Sharon Van Etten at the time I first saw this poem so I was in a dark, romantic, miserable place. Had I been listening to happier music, it’s possible I wouldn’t have enjoyed the Atwood poem as much.)

Now that I’ve tentatively stepped on to the path to poetry, I checked out three other poets I’d been interested in, but resisting. Billy Collins, who I am constantly confusing with Billy Connolly and therefore constantly being amazed that a Scottish actor became Poet Laureate of the United States, is the first. Picnic, Lightning is the collection I chose from Collins. Like many other people, I read Cheryl Strayed‘s Wild and was blown away. She took Adrienne Rich‘s The Dream of a Common Language on her hike through the Pacific Crest Trail so I thought I’d read her and chose, Later Poems: Selected and New, 1971-2012. The last poet is Pablo Neruda. I chose 100 Love Sonnets because a few days after discovering the Atwood poem, I read his Sonnet 27 and found another one of my poems.

MargaretAtwood PicnicLightning  AdrienneRich  100LoveSonnets

I’ve been attempting to read one poem a day from each poet. I can’t say that since reading Atwood’s poem that the flood gates have opened and I’m now a devoted poetry reader, but I’m learning. I do have favorites by each of the poets I’ve read and I’m less weary of opening a book of poetry.

What’s your one (or one of many) poem? Do you remember the poem that made you think, “YES! I understand now!” or have you always been a poetry fan?

~aisha

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Women Poet/Novelists

463px-rosie_the_riveter.jpg

This month’s celebration of Women’s History got me thinking about some of my favorite women authors.   Three of my personal favorite contemporary women authors have all accomplished something that is relatively rare in the history of literature:  they have excelled equally in the areas of fiction and poetry.  These authors are Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, and Marge Piercy.

Atwood is, perhaps, most famous for her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which was adapted into a good, relatively faithful motion picture, much better than the screen adaptations of the dystopic worlds of 1984 and Brave New World.   Her series of linked short stories, Wilderness Tips, is as fine a short story collection as has been written in the last twenty years (you’ll find yourself asking: what’s with all the bog men, eh?), as is her most recent linked stories collection, Moral Disorder.  A series of novels by Erdrich chronicles a number of recurring characters of Ojibwe descent and their larger, extended families.  The award-winning Love Medicine is the best known; personally, the opening chapter of Beet Queen, in which two children at a county fair watch their mother disappear from their lives in a hot air balloon as it slowly recedes over the horizon, is forever burnt into my brain.    Her recent The Master Butchers Singing Club, which tells the story of how the German side of her family came to North Dakota to blend with the Ojibwe nation, is every bit as lyrical and moving as its predecessors.   Rounding out the trio, Piercy is a first rate novelist, diverse in subject matter and genre, writing detailed historical novels focusing on the roles of women (Gone to Soldiers,  City of Darkness, City of Light, and The Sex Wars), futuristic narratives (He, She, It, and Woman on the Edge of Time), and contemporary sagas (Braided Lives, Three Women and The Third Child), all with a strong feminist flavor, that rival the fiction of today’s best writers. 

Many novelists dabble in poetry; as many poets attempt to write novels, both with somewhat limited results.   Yet, somehow all three of these outstanding novelists also are excellent poets.  Atwood and Piercy have both won awards for their poetry and, though Erdrich has not won any major poetry awards, her work is among the best contemporary poetry has to offer.    The Poetry Foundation website, perhaps the best poetry site on the net, offers a generous archive of contemporary and classic poems.   Interesting selections of poems from all three can be found in their archives: Atwood, Erdrich, and Piercy.   Beyond the Poetry Foundation archive, if you’d like to get the flavor of Atwood’s work there is Selected Poems II and Morning in the Burned House.   Erdrich has two collections of poems: Jacklight and Baptism of Desire, both highly recommended.  Piercy has nearly as many poetry collections as novels, no small number in either case; Circles on the Water: Selected Poems is a good place to start.

-Don

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