Kelly Zemnickis
November 18, 2017 12:03 pm
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Dear Margaret Atwood,

Today is your 78th birthday. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate your life as a legendary storyteller than to openly thank you for the world to see. Margaret Atwood, you are a national treasure, and as a fellow Canadian, you are on the same level for me as the Queen stamped on all of our money. You are woven into the fabric that is Canada; you join those of us speaking out against condo developments in our shared home of Toronto. Whatever the cause might be, you can’t help but think “Margaret Atwood is in our corner; we can’t give up.”

You will never, ever remember this — but a few years back, we met. Briefly. I was working as an usher at the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto, and when I saw you approaching my aisle, my heart skipped. “It’s Margaret Atwood!” I whispered to my co-workers. “MARGARET ATWOOD!” I was so excited that I got to tell you good evening. I showed you to your seat and quietly told you that I think you are amazing. And you were lovely about it.

Working in that position didn’t really permit me to show my inner “fangirl” to someone I admired — so I’m taking the opportunity to do that now.

I have become immensely grateful for your words of caution and empowerment. What began as required reading in high school has grown into a respect and appreciation for the ways in which you use the craft of storytelling.

You made me think about how stories are told. You introduced me to new ways of using language, of using my voice. Not all of the authors that teachers throw at you as a kid will become your guides as you get older. Not all of the novels you have to analyze in English class essays become books that you then ask for as Christmas gifts, that you read over and over again. But with you, Margaret Atwood — with you, that was different. You made me think.

I can still see a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale being handed to me by my teacher. That cover image will forever remain imprinted in my memory.

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I’d rarely had that lightbulb moment with a novel in school — that moment of wondering, “Could any of this actually happen?” And, well, in many ways, it’s happening.

As I watched Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale succeed at the 2017 Emmy Awards, I wiped away a few tears when I saw you join the cast on stage. I think all of Canada shed a grateful tear, along with your fans all over the world. I paused in understanding when you later explained in the Emmys press room that you’re telling stories about things that have happened — and, if we’re not careful, will happen again:

Your cautionary guidance gives hope. Your readers are inspired to speak up, to be heard, to not let the bastards grind us down. That is a daily mantra we especially need right now as our equality and our health is constantly threatened by political administrations.

I didn’t only fall in love with your writing in The Handmaid’s Tale. In The Robber Bride (another one of my favorites), I was struck by how you wove a tale together, and how you played with relationships and perspectives.

Your sentences dripped with richness and simplicity — like this line from your novel, Cat’s Eye: “Old lovers go the way of old photographs, bleaching out gradually as in a slow bath of acid: first the moles and pimples, then the shadings. Then the faces themselves, until nothing remains but the general outlines.”

You helped me see how stories could be crafted. What a gift that was to me.

I have become a storyteller in my own right, as a documentarian, playwright, and comic. While I have not followed your exact writing path, I’m using my voice to tell my stories. We may occupy different genres, but you motivated me early on to use my powers. That seed was planted when your book landed on my desk in high school.

Happy birthday, Margaret Atwood.

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