Margaret Atwood’s seminal novel The Handmaid’s Tale includes a fascinating metafictional epilogue in which a symposium in the year 2125 discusses the dystopian period in which the book is set, as well as heroine Offred’s story. It’s incredibly fitting, then, that our descendants in 2114 will be the first to read Atwood’s latest work, thanks to the innovative Future Library art project.
Scottish artist Katie Paterson conceived of Future Library, a new public artwork based in Oslo, Norway: She plants 1,000 trees and then commissions 100 writers, one each year for the next century, to write new works. The twist is, the stories, poems, novels, and other works will not be published until 2114, when the trees are all cut down to print the texts.
Atwood is the first writer to join the project. She joked on Twitter that she would be writing her text with “non-fade ink and archival paper” so that when the work (which will be held in a trust is opened in 2114, they won’t just find dust and “a few scraps.”
Paterson explains how the work developed through Future Library will be both timeless and grounded:
For some writers I think it could be an incredible freedom—they can write whatever they like, from a short story to a novel, in any language and any context… We’re just asking that it be on the theme of imagination and time, which they can take in so many directions. I think it’s important that the writing reflects maybe something of this moment in time, so when future readers open the book, they will have some kind of reflection of how we were living in this moment.
That said, Atwood is not allowed to share any information about her text, from subject matter to format. You can, however, watch this video in which she talks about how she got involved with Future Library, the lure of time capsules, and “communicating across space and time”:
Photo: Giorgia Polizzi