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Margaret Atwood

Debt as Plot

Date Recorded: Oct 17th, 2008
Recorded At: Pantages Playhouse Theatre, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Recorded By: CBC’s Suzanne Dufresne, with technician Brian Harder
Duration: 58:00

Topic Background
* PLEASE NOTE * For reasons of copyright, this programme will only be available for streaming audio during the month of March, 2009, and will not be available as a podcast.

This edition of Canadian Voices features author, poet and essayist Margaret Atwood, delivering the third lecture in the 2008 CBC Massey Lectures. The annual lecture series features noted Canadian or international scholars, who give a week-long series of lectures, each in a different city, on a political, cultural or philosophical topic. They were created in 1961 to honour Vincent Massey, Governor General of Canada. The 2008 series was entitled Payback: Debt and The Shadow Side of Wealth, and was published in print by the House of Anansi Press.

The CBC website introduces this year’s lectures as follows: Legendary novelist, poet, and essayist Margaret Atwood delivers a surprising look at the topic of debt. In her wide-ranging, entertaining, and imaginative approach to the subject, Atwood proposes that debt is like air – something we take for granted until things go wrong. And then, while gasping for breath, we become very interested in it.

Payback is not about practical debt management or high finance. Rather, it is an investigation into the idea of debt as an ancient and central motif in religion, literature, and the structure of human societies.

Margaret Atwood writes “These are not lectures about how to get out of debt; rather, they’re about the debtor/creditor twinship in the broadest sense – from human sacrifice to pawnshops to revenge. In this light, what we owe and how we pay is a feature of all human societies, and profoundly shapes our shared values and our cultures.”

This talk was originally broadcast on CBC’s Ideas programme on November 12, 2008. The lecture was produced for CBC Ideas by Philip Coulter, and the CBC holds copyright of the lecture. For more information on the Massey Lectures, visit

Speaker Biography
Margaret Atwood is one of the world’s pre-eminent writers – winner of the Booker Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the Governor General’s Literary Award, among many other honours. She is the bestselling author of more than thirty-five books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, including The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and Oryx and Crake. She is an Activist for women, and birds, and is the International Vice President of PEN, which assists writers around the world in the peaceful expression of their ideas. Most recently, she is the 2008 recipient of the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for Letters.

Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto, with novelist Graeme Gibson.

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