From Margaret Atwood via The Literary Hub:
Some books haunt the reader. Others haunt the writer. The Handmaid’s Tale has done both.
The Handmaid’s Tale has not been out of print since it was first published, back in 1985. It has sold millions of copies worldwide and has appeared in a bewildering number of translations and editions. It has become a sort of tag for those writing about shifts towards policies aimed at controlling women, and especially women’s bodies and reproductive functions: “Like something out of The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Here comes The Handmaid’s Tale” have become familiar phrases. It has been expelled from high schools, and has inspired odd website blogs discussing its descriptions of the repression of women as if they were recipes. People—not only women—have sent me photographs of their bodies with phrases from The Handmaid’s Tale tattooed upon them, Nolite te bastardes carborundorum and Are there any questions? being the most frequent.
The book has had several dramatic incarnations, a film (with screenplay by Harold Pinter and direction by Volker Schlöndorff) and an opera (by Poul Ruders) among them. Revelers dress up as Handmaids on Halloween and also for protest marches—these two uses of its costumes mirroring its doubleness. Is it entertainment or dire political prophecy? Can it be both?
I did not anticipate any of this when I was writing the book.
I began this book almost 30 years ago, in the spring of 1984, while living in West Berlin—still encircled, at that time, by the infamous Berlin Wall. The book was not called The Handmaid’s Tale at first—it was called Offred—but I note in my journal that its name changed on January 3, 1985, when almost 150 pages had been written.
. . . .
I recall that I was writing by hand, then transcribing with the aid of a typewriter, then scribbling on the typed pages, then giving these to a professional typist: personal computers were in their infancy in 1985. I see that I left Berlin in June of 1984, returned to Canada, spent a month on Galiano Island in British Columbia, wrote through the fall, then spent four months in early 1985 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where I held an MFA Chair. I finished the book there; the first person to read it was fellow writer Valerie Martin, who was also there at that time. I recall her saying, “I think you’ve got something here.” She herself remembers more enthusiasm.
. . . .
The book came out in the UK in February of 1986, and in the United States at the same time. In the UK, which had had its Oliver Cromwell moment some centuries ago and was in no mood to repeat it, the reaction was along the lines of, Jolly good yarn. In the United States, however—and despite a dismissive review in the New York Times by Mary McCarthy—it was more likely to be, How long have we got?
. . . .
Nations never build apparently radical forms of government on foundations that aren’t there already.
Link to the rest at The Literary Hub