On Tuesday night, I was lucky enough to hear Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid’s Tale) speak and be interviewed on stage after receiving the St. Louis Literary Award, which recognizes a living writer with a substantial body of work. (If you want to read more about this award, please go here)
The whole experience was very surreal because tickets were sold out to this free event, and St. Louis (as many of you know) was in the middle of another round of violent protests over a police officer found not guilty of 1st degree murder of an African American male. As a matter of fact, three nights before, I was supposed to attend the U2 concert, which was canceled because of the protests.
If you have watched or read The Handmaid’s Tale, you know the themes are abuse of power, feminism, sexuality, gender roles, religion, individual vs society, misogyny and more. Another huge theme is the rights of the powerful over the rights of the not. But the funny thing about this experience, and trust me, I am not comparing myself in any way to Offred, is that people who did not request tickets (the not powerful) from SLU early enough received a ticket to sit in the Sheldon ballroom and wait. We started at a stage with a huge screen, which showed two empty chairs and two glasses of water, instead of receiving a ticket to sit in the concert hall (the powerful), where this famous author would be appearing in-person. The idea was that if you wanted to hear Margaret Atwood, then you would be in the same building as her and view her entire speech and interview, as opposed to the segment of it, which will air on PBS sometime in October. And…if you had a golden ticket into the Sheldon concert hall, where she would be appearing live, you had rules you had to follow, or you were cast out. You had to be in your seat by 6:55pm, or they were giving it away to the hungry, feisty wolves up in the ballroom.
My friend, Lisa, and I arrived before the doors opened and received wait tickets–number 35 and 36. At first, we were told we were not allowed to even go on floor two (where the concert hall and BAR and bookstore were), but we decided to fight the establishment (HA!) and push button two on the elevator (instead of four). Believe it or not, there was no one standing there telling us to go straight to our ticketed ballroom. Yes, the Sheldon let us spend our money at the bar and at the bookstore before ushering us up to wait in the ballroom with the other lovely slackers, who also did not write SLU early enough to get two tickets to the concert hall.
While waiting in line for wine, I had decided there was no way we were getting in. Numbers 35 and 36? How could there be that many people who didn’t show up for their concert hall seats? Yes, it was unseasonably hot and yes, we were in the middle of protests, but still…So Lisa and I would sit with the other disappointed folks, who decided too late that this wonderful, lovely, funny, humorous, important author would be amazing to hear, even if we were doing so on a big movie screen two floors above where she actually was.
And then the moment of truth came. A man with a wire in his ear and a device in his hand said, “Numbers 1 to 10 line up. You are going in.”
Lisa and I turned to each other–Oh well, we couldn’t have gotten here any earlier anyway. Traffic, work, appointments, heat. . .
And then that wired man went crazy–he started calling all kinds of numbers, including 35 and 36. We shot up from our seats, giggling and excited. We rushed down the back staircase (I am not joking about this–the people from the ballroom to the concert hall took the back staircase), and Lisa and I even found two seats together in the concert hall for the ceremony. I felt elated and lucky and shocked.
Let me tell you, Margaret Atwood did not disappoint. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak, do it. I actually think that’s true for just about any author–I realize I am a writer, but I have never been disappointed about hearing any author speak. I always learn something about life and writing.
This post has already gone on long enough, but I’ll tell you that Margaret Atwood’s dedication to her craft, her career, and her life was inspiring. Her humbleness about being at the Emmy’s two nights before was refreshing. And her passion for literature and teaching were something I can only hope to show the world myself soon.