“I’m Pretty Keen on Fact.” Margaret Atwood on the Questions We Must Ask Ourselves
Introducing the Talk Easy Podcast with Sam Fragoso
Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi.
Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso is a weekly series of intimate conversations with artists, authors, and politicians. It’s a podcast where people sound like people. New episodes air every Sunday, distributed by Pushkin Industries.
In this episode, Sam revisits his 2022 conversation with Margaret Atwood, beginning with essay collection Burning Questions, which wrestles with catastrophe, Atwood’s upbringing in the wilderness under egalitarian parents, and how she circumvented the traditional roles for women of the 1950s. She also shares some personal stories: her first book signing event, the day she met her late husband Graeme Gibson, and the innumerable ways in which he’d shape her life.
On the back-half we discuss the historical antecedents behind The Handmaid’s Tale, its renewed relevance amid threats to reproductive justice, the debate around “the writer as political agent,” patriarchal gatekeeping inside the publishing industry, the limits of art-making, and why she continues to write at age 82. To close, Margaret reads from both her elegiac poem “Dearly” and her essay “Polonia.”
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From the episode:
Margaret Atwood: I’m not a natural joiner. And I’m not a natural activist. I end up doing those things because I don’t have a job. If you have a job, you can get fired. It’s a consideration. And if you don’t have a job, you actually can’t get fired. You can get cancelled, but you can’t get fired.
Sam Fragoso: Have you been cancelled?
Margaret Atwood: Attempts have been made. You have to ask about all of these things. Two questions that I bring up in Burning Questions: Is it true? And is it fair? You have to make a distinction between beliefs, for which no evidence is required, or is data available. Opinions, which we hope are based on the third thing, which is fact, oftentimes they’re just based on belief, but having grown up with scientists, I’m pretty keen on fact.
And that involves a lot of turning over the logs and going down the rabbit hole to see where this came from in the first place. Who started this rumor, whenever it may be? Where did it come from, and why are people getting sucked into it? And is it true?
Margaret Atwood is the author of over 50 books of poetry, critical essays, graphic novels, and fiction. Her latest short story collection, Old Babes in the Wood, was recently published this March.
Sam Fragoso is the host of Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso, a weekly series of conversations with artists, activists, and politicians. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and NPR. After conducting seminal interviews with icons like Spike Lee, Werner Herzog, and Noam Chomsky, he independently founded Talk Easy in 2016.