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World Voices Festival #2: Margaret Atwood

It makes sense that an established prize-winning author might view social media, new platforms, and the complicated challenges of contemporary publishing with indifference if not disdain. Jonathan Franzen, for example, claims that social media leaves nothing to the imagination. So it was a pleasant surprise to hear Margaret Atwood talk about new technologies with wit, irreverence, curiosity and respect. The new technologies are, after all, human artifacts. We have created them and whether we put them to good use (the light side) or abuse them (the dark side) is entirely up to us

In conversation with Amy Grace Loyd, Executive Editor of Byliner, the two women seemed to be friends in casual conversation at a café. Loyd, in fact, is one of Atwood's editors—there were quips about commas—and Byliner is a relatively new online publication, another testament to Atwood's innovative approach to her own career. She has a strong business sense and clearly believes that writers should be able to earn a living.

Atwood admitted that she has 319,000 followers on Twitter, that she tweets about fifteen minutes a day, but is often tempted to return, especially if she is ensconced in a hotel room.

Atwood has had a long, productive career. Her first short story was published in a Canadian literary magazine; she then moved into radio. The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) had an anthology radio program. The books came later. And, yes, she still owns books, lots of them, and is loathe to give them away. They are piled all over her house. She has to remember where they are so as not to trip on them.

The most telling moment of the evening was during the Q& A at the end. A woman came up to the mike with print-outs of a news article about amazon removing small literary presses from their data base. She was incensed and her question was more like a screed. Atwood interrupted her with politeness and aplomb: "Do you know that in China the character for crisis is the same as the character for opportunity? Why don't these small publishers get together as a collective, design a website, and sell their books?"

Despite this sage advice, the woman continued and Atwood interrupted her again. "What are these publishers and their authors waiting for?"

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