The role of writers isn’t to prop up unsavoury regimes or refuse to speak out when occupation is occuring down the road.
Margaret Atwood peeks at the busy schedule for her first visit to Israel: She’s set to receive a prestigious prize, meet with Israeli and Palestinian bird enthusiasts, and talk to specialists in Mideast water shortages.
As a vice president of human-rights group International PEN, the Canadian novelist is making a statement just by being in the Jewish state. Palestinian groups urged her not to accept the $1 million Dan David Prize for literature, which she shared with Indian author Amitav Ghosh, or to visit Israel for last night’s award ceremony.
“We don’t do cultural boycotts,” Atwood said in an interview before the ceremony at Tel Aviv University. “I would be throwing overboard the thousands of writers around the world who are in prison, censored, exiled and murdered for what they have published.”
Countering jet lag with coffee, Atwood sat down in a book- lined private lounge in a Tel Aviv hotel to discuss artists, writing, the Mideast conflict and the region’s lack of water.
Ackerman: You were urged to refuse this prize. Your response was that a cultural boycott can be dangerous. Can you elaborate?
Atwood: Why do these things happen to artists? It’s easy. Artists don’t have armies. What they do is nuanced, by which I mean it is about human beings, not about propaganda positions. They are going to offend someone no matter what they do. They are easy targets. They have names but no armies.