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Atwood’s “dog’s breakfast”

When is a protest not a protest? These days, apparently when it involves Margaret Atwood.

Some readers might remember her appearance at the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize ceremony, held at the Four Seasons hotel in Toronto. Atwood and her partner, Graeme Gibson, refused to eat the hotel’s food, opting instead for a meal they brought themselves in a hockey bag. This stunt was intended to protest the Four Seasons’ new development in Grenada, which apparently threatened the habitat of a rare Grenadian bird.

Now she’s at it again, only instead of 2007’s homemade meal, Atwood’s eating crow. Last week, Quillblog noted that Atwood had pulled out of the inaugural Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature to protest the censorship of British author Geraldine Bedell, whose novel, The Gulf Between Us, deals in part with a gay sheik.

It turns out that the book may not have been banned at all. After speaking with festival organizer Isobel Abulhoul, Atwood came to the conclusion that this might simply have been a case of a “naive” first-timer being too open in talking to a publisher.

Or something. In a rather confused (and confusing) mea culpa published this past weekend in the Guardian, Atwood writes:

This happens every day at every festival in the world. Publishers always want to launch or feature their authors, and all festivals pick and choose. Usually, however “ being experienced “ they don’t give the real reasons for their rejections. They don’t say “It’s a stinker” or “The local Christians will barbecue us”. They say: “Not suitable for our purposes.” They know that if they tell the truth, they’ll be up to their noses in the merde.

Abulhoul may have been too frank when speaking to Bedell’s publisher, Penguin, Atwood contends. In any event, this was not an instance of scotching the launch of a book, as the book isn’t even scheduled to be published until after the festival ends.

As for Bedell herself, she is quoted elsewhere in the Guardian as saying that her use of the word “ban” (in the blog post that started all this) was “appropriate based on [her] understanding of what the situation was at the time.”

Whether this was actually a case of censorship or something more benign is still an open question, and Atwood admits that her “head is spinning” about the whole thing. However, it now appears that the self-proclaimed “Anti-Censorship Woman” may have pulled the trigger before seeing the whites of her target’s eyes. Atwood concludes her piece by writing, “Books are seriously ‘banned’ and ‘censored’ around the world, and people have been imprisoned, murdered and executed for what they’ve written. A loose use of these terms is not helpful.” This Quillblogger couldn’t agree more.

Happy Freedom to Read Week, y’all.