Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing

Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing

by Margaret Atwood


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An ambitious inquiry into the art of writing and an unprecedented insider’s view of the writer’s universe, from the beloved author of The Handmaid’s Tale

What do we mean when we say that someone is a writer? Is he or she an entertainer? An improver of readers’ minds and morals? And who, for that matter, are these mysterious readers? In this wise and irresistibly quotable book, one of the most intelligent writers working in English addresses the riddle of her art: why people pursue it, how they view their calling, and what bargains they make with their audience, both real and imagined. To these fascinating issues Booker Prize-winner Margaret Atwood brings a candid appraisal of her own experience as well as a breadth of reading that encompasses everything from Dante to Elmore Leonard.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400032600
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/09/2003
Series: Empson Lectures
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 367,998
Product dimensions: 5.21(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.53(d)

About the Author

Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, short-listed for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, short-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize; The Year of the Flood; and her most recent, MaddAddam. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award, and lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson.


Toronto, Ontario

Date of Birth:

November 18, 1939

Place of Birth:

Ottawa, Ontario


B.A., University of Toronto, 1961; M.A. Radcliffe, 1962; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1967

Read an Excerpt

Acclaimed author Margaret Atwood’s definitive look at the role of the writer.
What is the role of the writer? Prophet? High Priest of Art? Court Jester? Or witness to the real world? Looking back on her own childhood and the development of her writing career, Margaret Atwood examines the metaphors that writers of fiction and poetry have used to explain -- or excuse -- their activities, looking at what roles they have chosen to play.
Margaret Atwood’s wide and eclectic reference to other writers, living and dead, is balanced by personal anecdotes from her own experiences as a writer. The lightness of her touch is offset by a seriousness about the purpose and the pleasures of writing, and by a deep familiarity with the myths and traditions of western literature.

Author Biography: Throughout her thirty-five years of writing, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honorary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Her novel, The Blind Assassin, won the 2000 Booker Prize for Fiction. Her work has been published in more than thirty-five languages.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Into the labyrinthxiii
1Orientation: Who do you think you are? What is "a writer," and how did I become one?1
2Duplicity: The jekyll hand, the hyde hand, and the slippery double: Why there are always two29
3Dedication: The Great God Pen: Apollo vs. Mammon: at whose altar should the writer worship?59
4Temptation: Prospero, the Wizard of Oz, Mephisto & Co.: Who waves the wand, pulls the strings, or signs the Devil's book?91
5Communion: Nobody to Nobody: The eternal triangle: the writer, the reader, and the book as go-between123
6Descent: Negotiating with the dead: Who makes the trip to the Underworld, and why?153

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Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
mrstreme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing was a scholarly study about writers, readers and the stories that connect them, written by Margaret Atwood. A collection of six essays based on a series of lectures given by Atwood at Cambridge University, it¿s an intelligent look into what makes writers tick and the challenges faced by the writer, especially female ones.Each essay examined a different aspect of the writing process, such as dealing with fame, mingling with the dead and the conversation between the writer and his/her reader. Atwood added many stories from her past, which I found the most fascinating. She also included lots of references to other writers and poets, including Dante, Shakespeare, Alice Munro and Adrienne Rich ¿ to help strengthen her many thoughts about writing.This book reminded me Joyce Carol Oates¿ The Faith of a Writer. Both books require concentration and offer provocative questions about the art of writing. Fans of Atwood may be turned off by her academic tone in Negotiating With The Dead, but if you can follow along and love to read about writers, then this collection by Atwood is a must-read.
jharlton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I like some of what Atwood has to say. I do feel that she is a little too omniscient at times, especially in the last chapter where she lets us know what the dead really want. But, she does make some fine points and does it with tact. The literary allusions got me down though, made me feel that I had read nothing at all. This book leans heavily on the ideas of previous texts, but I think Atwood shows that this book, like all fiction and poetry, must.
ALincolnNut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Acclaimed novelist Margaret Atwood, whose work includes the modern classic "The Handmaid's Tale," was asked to deliver the Empson Lectures at the University of Cambridge in 2000. Those six lectures provide the basis for this non-fiction book. Subtitled "A Writer on Writing," "Negotiating with the Dead" is not a primer on how to write, but reflections on six uncomfortable dilemmas facing every author.While the lectures are intended for a broad audience, rather than specialists, and while Atwood claims to have followed that mandate in preparing them, I found the book turgid and nearly impossible to read. I appreciated Atwood's choice of themes, but found little consonance in her explorations. I am sure that I missed much of the literary symbolism in her essays; more often, though, I was simply too bored to care. Perhaps longtime novelists or long-ago college English majors will appreciate this book.
canread on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The concept was good, but there was far too much angst coming from someone who has had every success in her chosen field.
Nickelini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting visit to this author's mind. She makes it all look so easy and logical. An inspiring read.
amyfaerie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Atwood's attempt at the genre of writing book is fantastic.
samfsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting book on writing that will really get you thinking. It's not a writing manual, and not a prescription for success or failure. Atwood doesn't answer any questions, but she poses plenty - and they are real head scratchers. This is education at its best, forcing the student to think for themselves.And it's so impressive to see how many poets and writers Atwood quotes. She provides the reader with plenty of examples to illustrate her questions.
paisley1974 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Margaret Atwood's insightful mind turns inward here, reflecting on her the writing life.
Trippy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Atwood's delightful commentary on the art of writing...a definate for any Atwood fan!
Niecierpek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book developed from a series of six lectures Atwood delivered at the University of Cambridge in 2000 on being a writer. I read two books recently that attempted the same thing in a way: Elizabeth Costello, and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. Coetze fictionalized his lectures and actually added the character of a writer (Elizabeth Costello) to present them, and Eco¿s book held great literary promise, but did not deliver in the end; it concentrated on the legacy of comic books. Atwood, on the other hand, wrote a zestful and delightfully erudite treaty on being a writer, full of insights and literary references which is a pleasure to read. Atwood¿s way of thinking appealed, as usual, to me. I just felt that illusive satisfaction coming from every line I read.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
...learn from writers. Atwood considers a wide range of writers and their reasons for writing, and leaves her audience with her own opinions-- and a thousand questions to accompany them. It was inspiring to read what she has written here, and I am happy to have done so.