FTRW 2009 – Margaret Atwood Debates Ducking Dubai While Being Challenged in Canada

What's FTRW without a couple stories about Peggy Atwood… 

Her books are currently being challenged in a Toronto school by a parent who says: “…if students repeated some of the words from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in the school halls, they'd be suspended, so he questions why it is okay in the classroom.” 

But as the article points out, what appears to be a double-standard at first glance, isn't at really as there are different standards for how you speak respectfully in a school setting and what is contained in the material that you might study to become a more well-rounded person with a strong capability of critical thought. 

Russell Morton Brown, a retired University of oronto English professor, said The Handmaid's Tale wasn't likely written for 17-year-olds, “but neither are a lot of things we teach in high school, like Shakespeare.

“And
they are all the better for reading it. They are on the edge of
adulthood already, and there's no point in coddling them,” he said,
adding, “they aren't coddled in terms of mass media today anyway…[The Handmaid's Tale] is
the most taught Canadian novel at the high school level,” he said. “I
think it provides a lot to talk about, and generally speaking it does
engage students.”

Meanwhile, around the world, Margaret Atwood admits to confusion about her role in protesting on behalf of a writer who was refused a spot at the first ever Dubai International Writers' Festival because her book contained a gay sheik as a character.  Or was she?

Atwood's humour shines:

“This was a case for Anti-Censorship Woman! I nipped into the nearest
phone booth, hopped into my cape and coiled my magic lasso, and swiftly
cancelled my own appearance; because, as a vice-president of
International PEN, I could not give my August Seal of Elderly Writer
Approval to such a venue.” 

But more investigation revealed that the author wasn't banned, she simply wasn't given a spot based care appropriate for our communities.  In fact, read the following quote inserting “library” every time you read “festival”:

This happens every day at every festival in the world. Publishers always want to launch or feature their authors, and all festivals
pick and choose. Usually, however – being experienced – they don't give
the real reasons for their rejections. They don't say “It's a stinker”
or “The local Christians will barbecue us”. They say: “Not suitable for
our purposes.” They know that if they tell the truth, they'll be up to
their noses in the merde.]


So with conflicting stories, Atwood is uncertain how to proceed (and a bit pissed at the loose usage of the words “banned” and “censored” in a world where writers die for this cause): 

So what do I do now? Having leapt into this dog's breakfast, I have it
all over my face. And Bedell or no Bedell, the question of censorship
remains. Every country has some form of the not-permitted. In Canada,
child pornography and hate literature are both illegal. What should not
be permitted seems self-evident to those within a culture, though often
bizarre to those outside it.


She doesn't reach a conclusion – attend, not attend, appear by video link – but admits that at least this gives PEN an opportunity to attend and lead a discussion around the issue.

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