margaret atwood at ku

The inimitable Margaret Atwood was just across the state line at KU giving a free, open-to-the-public lecture on Monday night, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! Her lecture was titled “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?: The Arts, The Sciences, The Humanities, The Inhumanities, and The Non-Humanities. Zombies Thrown in Extra.” It was fabulous.

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Atwood was personable, with a sharp sense of humor (riffing on the Wicked Witch of the West even… Kansas, natch), often having the audience in stitches. She mentioned her past as an expert in Victorian literature and underwear (!), smoked whale testicles (!!), the sex lives of zombies compared to other monsters like vampires and werewolves (!!!), Katy Perry’s now-infamous left shark, joked about Wikipedia and Twitter, and went on other delightful tangents. Her lecture, though, got to the heart of seemingly obscure yet obvious connections between the arts and sciences. Some of my favorite quotes:

“If art didn’t transmute, there’d be no zombies, and that would make you sad.”

“We came long ago and we came equipped with the arts.”

“Art makes it personal, makes it visceral.”

(after reading a stiff, lengthy definition of “the humanities” on Wikipedia) “The short answer is: the humanities are not rocket science.”

I loved her discussion on why zombies have become so popular in our entertainment culture right now, and also her imaginative explanation of what’s happening in the Gauguin painting from which she took her lecture title (click for image: www.gauguin.org)—that these lovely Tahitian ladies are wondering to themselves which European disease might wipe them out and who is that creepy old dude? Socrates lingering just off-frame. Ha!

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I was early enough to get a fantastic fourth-row seat during the presentation, but that meant I ended up at the end of the line for the book signing… 1100 people deep, the line snaked down a hallway and a stairwell to four floors below. Ouch. I was really worried she’d stop signing after about an hour, and considered giving up—I had an hour drive back home and it was pushing 11 pm by the time I even got to the same floor she was on. But, ultimately I’m glad I stuck it out because I snagged an autograph and a picture.

Oh, and I chose to have her autograph Stone Mattress since it’s her latest publication—that helps me “date” when I saw her, so to speak.

Thank you, Margaret Atwood and KU!

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