Margaret Atwood’s Anti-Prediction: A Sendoff to Women’s History Month

Margaret Atwood, photo by Kate Peters

It is always necessary to celebrate women and their accomplishments especially during the month of March. Women’s history month celebrates the integral contributions by women to better the world. One such woman who has proven words and words alone can make an impact on the world is Margaret Atwood. She has shown time and again how influential her writing is. The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985, continues to be one of her most popular novels, and for good reason; it still has people talking about it today.

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 and has since written more than 40 books of poetry, fiction, and essays. She has said that she never intended to be a feminist writer, but soon began to change her writing based on the evolving world around her. Many of her novels and poems involve female characters who are suffering in some way. Atwood has said, “My women suffer because most of the women I talk to seem to have suffered” (“Margaret Atwood”). This encapsulates The Handmaid’s Tale. The female characters are all struggling, both internally and externally.

For anyone who hasn’t read The Handmaid’s Tale, it follows a young woman named Offred. Her name is formed from a man’s first name, Fred, and the prefix “of” meaning “belonging to.” In Offred’s case, she belongs to the Commander and his wife. Together they make up one of the many households in Gilead, a theocratic republic in what used to be the United States.


Offred is a Handmaid and must provide a baby for the Commander and his wife, who is infertile. This is the sole purpose of the Handmaids. If Offred does not provide a baby she will be given to a different household or sent to the colonies. The colonies are areas of North America that have been contaminated by radioactive waste and pollution. Anyone in the Republic of Gilead who has broken a law or proven themselves useless to the reproductive cause is sent to the colonies to clean the area up as retribution for their crimes.

The world in which The Handmaid’s Tale takes place is one in which almost all women are infertile. The “lucky” ones who are fertile are essentially kidnapped, enrolled in a school to learn obedience, and forcibly placed into households to provide children. The Handmaids are given no other objective and have almost no rights as human beings. They are only allowed to leave the house for scheduled appointments or to fetch supplies, and they must never go alone. They cannot wear anything other than red dresses and white bonnets. They cannot speak out of turn, or disrespect their household in any way. The Handmaids are considered property more so than human beings.

So why is this book about a society built on seventeenth-century Puritan roots still relevant today? So much of The Handmaid’s Tale is controversial, and controversy gets people talking. Much of what happens to the Handmaids in the book is cruel and unspeakable. For instance, while in the Handmaids’ school, Moira, Offred’s best friend from before Gilead, pretends to be ill. She is brought to the hospital and when it is found out she is faking, her feet are maimed using steel cables. Only the feet and hands were injured because they were not essential to reproduction. However, the women prove time and again how strong willed, intelligent, and determined they are to fight past each obstacle thrown their way. As a result, The Handmaid’s Tale is considered a feminist novel by many.

When asked whether the book was written to be a feminist novel Atwood replied, “If you mean a novel in which women are human beings—with all the variety of character and behavior that implies—and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure, and plot of the book, then yes.” It is no wonder that in today’s society where the feminist movement is growing exponentially every day that books this continue to be used as resources and loved by many.

Photo by George Kraychyk/Hulu

In addition to the book remaining popular to readers, it was adapted as a series on Hulu in April 2017. Of course with almost any book turned into movie/television there will be changes. The changes made for the series are substantial enough to be noticed, but nothing changes the meaning or plot of the book.

Since the book was written over thirty years ago, Bruce Miller, the producer of the series, made certain alterations in order to update aspects of the book. In the time before Gilead, the characters use smartphones and laptops, which did not exist when the book was written. The cast is also much more diverse than what appears in the book. This was an important change for Miller. In an interview with Time Magazine he recalled, “That was a very big discussion with Margaret about what the difference between reading the words, ‘There are no people of color in this world’ and seeing an all-white world on your television, which has a very different impact…” (Dockterman). The third big change is Offred’s character. She is more rebellious than in the book. This change was made in order to make her character more relatable and interesting to watch. Even with these changes, the series stays true to the novel and is worth watching.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has quickly become a favorite book of many. The characters are relatable and the plot is harrowing, but what keeps people coming back is the fear it instills. It even appears some believe a world like Gilead is plausible in the near future. In fact, Atwood is often asked if the novel is a prediction to which she responded, “Let’s say it’s an anti-prediction: if this future can be described in detail, maybe it won’t happen.” Women from all over the United States have taken this to heart and are using the book as a way to protest women’s issues. One occurrence took place in Texas on March 20th, 2017. Women dressed in red robes and white bonnets entered a courtroom to protest an anti-abortion law being considered by the state senate. The law would make it illegal to obtain an abortion in the second trimester and would allow doctors to lie to women considering an abortion. The clothing the women wore gave them a way to protest peacefully while proving a point.

Hopefully Gilead never becomes a reality and Margaret Atwood’s beloved novel remains on the fiction shelves at the local library. Only time will tell, but in the meantime read, revisit, or watch The Handmaid’s Tale. For anyone who has already read or watched The Handmaid’s Tale do you consider it a feminist novel? What do you like or not like about it? Do you think a world like Gilead is possible? Are there any other books by Margaret Atwood you enjoy? Let’s keep the conversation going because after all controversy gets people talking.

Sources Cited:

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Anchor Books, 1998.

Canfield, David. “Activists Dressed as Characters From The Handmaid’s Tale to Protest Texas’ Anti-Abortion Measures.” Slate. The Slate Group, 2017. <view online here>

Dockterman, Eliana. “The Differences Between The Handmaid’s Tale Show and Book, Explained.” Time. Time Inc., 2017. <view online here>

“Margaret Atwood.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2018.

Written by Kendra Johnson
Originally Posted April 2, 2018

Notes from the Editor: Throughsmoke’s Power Over Perception

Much to my pleasure and joy, a short nonfiction piece titled “throughsmoke: an essay in notes” made it through the final cut and landed in the interns’ laps this semester. Beautifully written, it explores the author’s growing relationship with scent and perfumes. The piece had been one of the manuscripts I screened last semester, and it drew me in with its first line: “In a dark time, I am in love with something frivolous.” Hook, line, and sinker.

It’s a strange thing, the effects a story can have on you once you devote so much time to it. I come together with fellow interns weekly to discuss the intricacies of this collection of notes, (much like the notes of perfume, quick and fleeting but often lingering.) I comb over the author’s words in my own time, bundled up in bed with the manuscript balancing on my knees, and I leave each encounter with her writing in a trance of sorts, feeling light like the wisps of scent the author has put so much time into describing, looking at the world, for at least a few minutes afterward, not with my eyes but with my nose.

Before starting edits on this manuscript, I had never concerned myself too much with the world of perfume. I only owned four different bottles of perfume, purely because they were released by Taylor Swift, my purchase of them having nothing to do with the smell of the liquids at all. But now, whenever I find myself at Target or TJ Maxx, I pick up the strips of paper and spray them with the different bottles of perfume. I try to pick up the different notes of scents coming from the perfume—grapefruit lingering in one titled “air,” notes of jasmine in the bottle designed in the shape of a woman’s handbag.

Even away from the confines of perfume, I greet new classmates and subtly smell the air around them, familiarizing myself with their preferred detergent. I arrive home and am momentarily stunned by the scent of apples overcoming the room, my sister working her way to homemade applesauce. I wear a man’s coat and inhale the faint scent of mahogany and cigarette smoke. Smells that define a person or place or thing, all suddenly at my attention, and all because of an essay in notes.

While the release date of “throughsmoke: an essay in notes” is yet to be announced, I encourage you to keep your eye out for it. It’ll be worth the wait, and your sense of smell will never be the same.

Written by Ashley Thorpe
Originally posted March 22, 2018
Images via

Fun in the Sun: NRP Staff Return from AWP Conference

Interns Cameron, Anna, Laura, and Mikaila pose in their Printing Devil apparel.

That’s a wrap for the 2018 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference! The colossal convention took place this past week, March 8th through the 10th, in Tampa Bay, Florida. New Rivers Press took this opportunity to get out of the cold winter of Minnesota and bask in the sun, warm weather, and hordes of books at the AWP Bookfair.

Once again, New Rivers Press had the pleasure of hosting a table at the AWP Bookfair, but this year brought the addition of a few new faces. Interns Anna, Cameron, Laura, and Mikaila had the opportunity to travel to Tampa and represent the press by selling books, taking part in panels, and shamelessly sporting their NRP printer’s devil T-Shirts.

New Rivers Press is always looking for ways to improve and expand its audience, so each intern chose at least one panel to attend and report on.  A few of the topics included podcasting, marketing, crowdfunding, community building in small towns and mid-sized cities, and maximizing online sales. Everyone looks forward to reporting back to the press and incorporating this acquired knowledge into press operations.

Following the three-day thrill of the conference, the staff and interns are recovering from sleep deprivation, jet lag, and the shock of returning to sub-sixty weather.

First Titles in Short Nonfiction Series Announced

Last year in May and June, New Rivers held its first ever Short Nonfiction call, looking for manuscripts of creative nonfiction, essays, and mixed-genre work 70 – 120 pages in length. Our goal was to find important works that live in that nebulous mid-range—too long to be short, but too short to be long—and give them voice. We received too many great submissions—more than we have room for in our publishing slate. We were blown away by the fantastic works we received, and we’re hoping to receive as many great submissions when we re-open the call in April.

New Rivers is excited to announce the two manuscripts that were selected for publication from this first call. Elizabeth Mosier’s The Pit and the Page: Archaeology, Memory, and Home and Jehanne Dubrow’s throughsmoke: an essay in notes will be the first two titles in this series.

In the authors’ words:

image via marmotollie,

The Pit and the Page

My interest in objects and their stories—cultivated at the Independence National Park Archaeology Laboratory in Philadelphia, where for seven years I processed Colonial-era artifacts from The President’s House and National Constitution Center sites—inspired this book of essays. The collection draws upon the terminology and processes of archaeology as a framework for presenting personal memories and social history, in order to illuminate the emotional process by which the archaeological record is formed. In recovering artifacts from my past, I seek to reconstitute “home” in the wake of my mother’s devastating memory loss.


image via


We are wooed by perfume. It vexes us. The fleeting habits of fragrance charm and irritate—What is that delicious smell? What does it make me remember? What does it make me taste? Why does it disappear just when I begin to feel it is part of me? This manuscript explores the question of how I came to be obsessed with the art and science of perfume and compares my love of perfumery with my love of poetry. The book includes interviews with other poets who collect perfume, with scientists, with a literary scholar who studies the role of scent in the French Symbolists, and with the founder of perfumed soap company. throughsmoke frequently looks to classical and contemporary literature, philosophy, and pop culture for answers to the questions: How do we become obsessed with something as seemingly frivolous as perfume? And why might a love of the frivolous be necessary in dark times such as these?

We’re excited to welcome Elizabeth and Jehanne to the New Rivers family!

Expect these publications to drop at AWP 2019 in Portland!

Want to be cool like Elizabeth and Jehanne? Submit your short mixed-genre and nonfiction works when our submission call re-opens in April!

Image Credit:
“Colonial Archaeology” by marmotollie on deviantArt

Read Like You Mean It

How to Meet Your 2018 Reading Goals

If you’re reading this blog, chances are good you are a fan of books. Frankly, I consider reading to be one of the cheapest and easiest forms of relaxing entertainment there is. Still, it feels like many people only watch their To-Be-Read piles grow as they agonize over which book to give their precious free time and attention.

It doesn’t have to be that way. That doesn’t mean sign up for a speed-reading class so you can read The Iliad and The Odyssey in a single sitting (although that does sound like an interesting marathon to undertake!). Instead, here are some practical tips on how to enjoy more books in 2018 without stressing about what you have left unread:

1. Stash books like a squirrel does food in October, but be systematic. If reading historical fiction always helps you sleep, then that new World War II novel definitely belongs on the bedside table. Even if you only get through ten pages a night before drifting off, you are letting books relax you instead of checking out another Facebook image gallery of bad family portraits. Have a basket in the bathroom? Put a fun book like Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader in there instead of collecting extra carrots on Farmville. Laundry room? Romance! Living room? Fantasy sounds fun. Whatever you do around the house, there’s a book for that.

2. If you feel like you’re always waiting–for a meeting to start, for a train or a bus, for an appointment, for that annoying neighbor to quiet down–then audiobooks could be the right choice for you. As services like Audible become more popular and accessible every day, you can get books downloaded to your phone for cheap without having to haul CDs back and forth from the library. Listen to the soothing voices of famous actors, authors, or just voice talents extraordinaire recreate a favorite book or help you fall in love with something new.

3. Even those of us who bemoan that we don’t have enough time for a proper meal do have to sit and eat once in a while. And sure, you may eat lunch while you work on that big report, but there are at least two other meals in the day! Instead of zoning out with another episode of the bachelor after work, pick up a mystery, thriller, or other cliffhanger-style book to keep you reading until the last available second. Or, have poetry with your corn puffs and compliment yourself on starting the day with your brain all warmed up.

4. Lastly, don’t forget to count the reading you’re already doing. None of us can go through a day without reading, whether it’s advertisements, news stories, tweets, sports scores, or emails. Remember that even if you’re not picking up Dickens every day, you are still doing a lot of important reading and learning that helps you be inquisitive about the world. Try keeping a reading log and see how much you actually get through in a week; you could be happily surprised. Plus, you can already add this post to your list!