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One Book Blog


July 02, 2018 | 

Warm greetings to the Northwestern community, and special greetings to our first year students! Welcome to One Book One Northwestern and our electrifying choice for this year’s conversation, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Chances are, you know that The Handmaid’s Tale is a seriously dystopian book. In Atwood’s dystopia, American women lose their money, jobs, identities, and rights. Some women become “handmaids,” forced to bear children for the new regime. The Handmaid’s Tale envisions a nightmarish dystopia, but it’s a dystopia that compels us to look both backwards and forwards. Most crucially, Atwood inspires us to imagine other, better futures—and to recognize our power to produce the society we want.

As you probably also know, The Handmaid’s Tale is having a huge cultural moment right now. A new TV adaptation is streaming on Hulu; lots of people in America and across the world are talking about this book. We’re thrilled to launch the conversation at Northwestern. We’ll have podcasts, reading groups, TV viewings, and a short-essay writing contest. We’ll host an open mic where you can share your own dystopias. There will be many other events during which we’ll talk, listen, watch, act, produce, and debate the meanings of Atwood’s book. Most important, we’ll hear Margaret Atwood speak about The Handmaid’s Tale and its centrality to the current moment when she visits Northwestern’s Chicago and Evanston campuses on October 30.

I grew up in Bangor, Maine. I won’t give you any spoilers, but this town, coincidentally, ends up being an important place in Atwood’s book. Therefore, it feels a little like fate to welcome you to One Book One Northwestern and The Handmaid’s Tale. In the English and Gender & Sexuality Studies classes I teach at Northwestern, reading is always an incentive to ponder not only past history but the future we will make together. With friends and colleagues at Northwestern who shape that future every day, I welcome you to the start of our conversation about The Handmaid’s Tale. It is a scary but energizing vision, whose meanings for ourselves, our communities, and our world we will explore together this year.