Plea of a Plebian: An Ode to Margaret Atwood

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Illustration by Maybelle Leung

Indigo book store in the Manulife Centre: Margaret Atwood held a book signing following the release of Maddaddam. By the time I heard about it, the event was only a week away.

My first thought was that I should probably start studying for it.

On the day, I arrived a casual hour and a half early to find that I was 20th in line. For an hour we didn’t move, and in that time the line snaked its way through the entire, sprawling Indigo. I clung to my spot in the queue for dear life as the first forty people and I were led to uncomfortable folding chairs in front of a makeshift stage. My eyes were glued to the black curtains surrounding the stage, as though I might miss Atwood entirely if I blinked.

The same announcements were made again and again: “For those of you in the back, you will be called up to the signing desk based on the number you’ve been given, AFTER those in the seating area have had their books signed.” “We’re coming around with post-it notes for your title page; Margaret will personalize ONE book and simply sign the others.”

The woman next to me politely declined having her book personalized. She answered her daughter’s questions without looking up from her phone once:

“Mommy, why don’t you want your book to have your name in it?”

“Because that would lower the value, baby.”

My own copies of Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood were not in perfect condition by any means. I thought about how once they were signed, I would never let go of these books for any price.

During the short interview, when asked about what specialty she would have been in charge of had she been a character in Year of the Flood, Atwood answered, “Survival,” with a wry smile. No one laughed. I wanted to scream “I GET IT”, my mind having jumped to her survey of Canadian literature (entitled Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature). But, of course, I stayed silent.  The thought of attracting her attention was both terrifying and intoxicating. Besides, maybe she hadn’t been joking. Maybe she truly wanted to teach survival skills to people. I could not risk the embarrassment.

I frantically tried to think of questions during the audience Q & A, but all I could come up with was, What is your least favourite question to answer? Considering the questions were being pre-screened by Indigo staff, I decided against raising my hand.

The actual signing was over in seconds. Atwood was on a raised dais, being handed book after book to sign. We plebeians approached her from below in supplication. The brave among us attempted to engage her in conversation. When I approached, Atwood’s publicist was saying something to her about how “they should be grateful”. I croaked:

“If you’re talking about us, we are very grateful.”

Atwood looked at me. Then she stared at the post-it.

“It’s May-do?” she asked, gloriously mispronouncing my nickname. “M-A-D-O?”

“Yes,” I said. “It’s Madeleine but everyone calls me Mado.”

Of course, she had only been confirming the spelling.

“The same?” she said when she got to the second book.

“If— you—‘re— uh— willing,” I said, somehow pushing the words through my awe-constricted throat. The rest of our exchange was a collection of “sorry”s and “thank you”s on my part and an impassive, concentrated face on her’s. Then, as the line shifted forwards once more, I was handed my stack of books and sent on my way.

I walked around the Manulife Centre in a daze. I opened my books one after the other.

For Mado, all best, Margaret Atwood

— Contributed by Madeleine Christie

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2 thoughts on “Plea of a Plebian: An Ode to Margaret Atwood

  1. What an interesting read!I met her once, for this book-signing thing a few years back, and I was more intimidated than awe-struck. I TOTALLY know what you mean by her “impassive, concentrated face”!

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