Letters from Home

Under "The Tent"

Margaret Atwood at the London Book Fair 2006
Authors really shouldn’t be celebrities or figureheads. Not really.

Instead, they should be heroes.

Margaret Atwood just fills a chair, like any other person. She is right there in front of me. She is little. She is older than the image sketched on the side of a Barnes & Noble handbag.

But she is epic.

Behind me, there are 400 other people, authors in waiting. I can feel them straining out to her, their longing like tentacles in the invisible air.

But she is epic. Her humor is dry, like Canadian winter air. She effuses fluffy warmth, like the cat she tells us about, now toying with souls in heaven. She talks; yet her force, in the room, is silent.

She is unanswered questions. She is a dream answered. She is forgiven quarrels and feuds that heave and flame at boundary lines.

And, then again, she is just Margaret.

Other authors sat in chairs on the stage. Other authors gave advice, and answered questions. They said great and good things.

But Margaret Atwood filled the space, and emptied it again.

Some authors are celebrities, with fans. Some authors are figureheads, with cults.

And some authors are heroes.