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Renowned author Margaret Atwood talks social justice with Gloria Steinem in Dayton literary event

Margaret Atwood sits on the Dayton Victoria Theater Stage across from author Gilbert King, as she speaks with Gloria Steinem about social justice Saturday evening. Steinem is joining through video call and is projected overhead. The event was part of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Award Ceremony.
Mawa Iqbal
Gloria Steinem interviews Margaret Atwood about fighting against injustice at the Victoria Theater in Dayton Saturday evening. The conversation was part of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Award Ceremony, which honors authors whose works aim to advance peace.

World-renowned author Margaret Atwood discussed social change with feminist Gloria Steinem at the Victoria Theater on Saturday evening. It was all part of this year’s Dayton Literary Peace Prize award ceremonies, which honors authors whose works aim to fight injustice.

Steinem joined by video call. They talked about Atwood’s critically acclaimed novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” She said she drew inspiration for the book’s dystopian theme from dictators of the 20th century, like Joseph Stalin.

“It's not over,” Atwood said. “We've got more now, but they follow very similar patterns, it doesn't matter what the slogan is. The procedures tend to be very similar.”

Atwood said that in a democracy it’s up to everyone to advance peace in the face of violence and injustice, such as gender inequality.

“I think democracy is a very, very difficult form of government,” Atwood said. “You have to keep working at it. It's aspirational. But if you give up the aspiration, then you're going to end up with something much worse.”

Atwood and Steinem are both recipients of the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, a Dayton literary peace prize honoring lifetime achievement. Steinem was honored with the award in 2015, and Atwood in 2020.

At the event, both women recalled their childhoods, and even cracked jokes about what to do with men -- which earned a lot of laughs from the audience.

“Well, I once wrote a little sci-fi piece in which I said we can solve all of this by putting all the male leaders into a stadium in their uniforms, and they shouldn sing like birds and whoever is sang the best would win.”

Atwood says she’s currently working on a collection of essays for her book “Burning Questions,” as well as a non-writing project.

Before the conversation, there was a panel discussion featuring six winners and runner-ups for fiction and non-fiction awards within the past two years. Their books covered conflict, such as racism in America, the Vietnam War and the Holocaust.

The panel was moderated by Gilbert King, the 2013 Nonfiction Runner-up for “Devil in the Grove.” The awards ceremony honoring the authors was held the following day.

Mawa Iqbal is a reporter for WYSO. Before coming to WYSO, she interned at Kansas City PBS's digital magazine, Flatland. There, her reporting focused on higher education and immigrant communities in the Kansas City area. She studied radio journalism at Mizzou, where she also worked for their local NPR-affiliate station as a reporter.