When Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale in 1984, she brought to disturbing life an oppressive, patriarchal social order that strips women of their identity and relegates them to domestic roles. Atwood has said in interviews that the rise of the Christian right in America during the 1970s and early ’80s, the Salem witch trials and the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran inspired the nightmare scenario.
Thirty-three years later — amid a modern-day climate of unsettling women’s rights infringements — an Emmy-winning television adaptation on Hulu has brought the book into the pop culture vernacular, and in light of recent setbacks regarding reproductive freedom; marches led by women in red cloaks; and the revelations of The Silence Breakers, Atwood’s cautionary fable has become even more relevant.
Inspired by the book’s popularity and resonance with women, the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area and Keep St. Pete Lit presented “Handmaids Respond: A Literary Speakout” on Nov. 30 at Soft Water Studios. Members of the League of Women Voters mingled with the public and provided brochures, featured a snazzy T-shirt for sale and a petition to restore voter rights to ex-felons who have paid their debt to society.
KSPL has hosted several similar “ekprhastics” — events involving the presentation of works inspired by other works of art — and the “Handmaids Respond” might be the first in a tradition of literature-driven fundraisers.
Participating writers included Shae Krispinsky ( her piece from the imagined point of view of Melania Trump was read by KSPL President and Founder Maureen McDole) along with Lisa Spencer, Tracy Bird, Mitzi Gordon, Lenore Myka, Tenea D. Johnson, Barbara Poore, Claire Stephens, Patia Carque, Lisa L. Kirchner, Lisa Lanser Rose, Lorielle J. Holloway and yours truly.
The works featured accompanying passages from the book and ranged in tone and style; published and award-winning works in addition to freshly drafted pieces created just for the event. Formats ran the gamut from personal essay to poems to short stories to a “redacted” piece by former Creative Pinellas Director/Bluebird Books Bus founder Gordon and a comedic performance with costume changes by True Stories host Kirchner. Click here for some of the works performed.
Amy Hamric Weintraub, the League of Women Voters’ Chair, Reproductive Right Action Group, League of Women Voters St. Petersburg Area, gave a moving speech before the writers took the stage. “The readings and performances were inspiring,” she said, “and the solidarity between the writers and the audience, who hung on every word. was palpable. That’s the solidarity we need.”
Weintraub added that now is the time to join together and loudly call out the sexism and anti-women policies everywhere – or risk starring in a real-life version of The Handmaid’s Tale. “The League of Women Voters originated out of the suffrage movement and we continue to support women’s rights as an extension of our desire to create an equitable society,” she added. “Events such as the ‘Handmaids Respond’ empower us and our work and help folks know how to get involved.”
Stunning sculpture by Mark Aeling and Wendy Durand and the paintings of Beth Kokol, Dawn Lewis, Marc Levasseur and Jim Kammerud surrounded the event and provided distinctive backdrops. Soft Waters Studios owner and artist Carrie Jadus popped in and greeted visitors and participants.
Volunteers from the League of Women Voters and Keep St. Pete Lit greet the crowd and serve beverages before the event.
Audience members and participants choose cloaks and bonnets.
Amy Hamric Weintraub, Chair, Reproductive Right Action Group, League of Women Voters St. Petersburg Area, opens the event with an impassioned speech about the League’s role in the community, supporting legislation that protects women’s rights and restoring voters rights to ex-felons.
Keep St. Pete Lit President Maureen McDole greets the audience and speaks about The Handmaid’s Tale timeless relevance.
Writer Tracy Bird reads a moving, lyrical essay on sexual abuse and sisterhood.
Lisa Spencer uses humor and eloquence to cope with writer’s block and identity issues.
Lorielle J. Holloway offers poignant prose about a childhood experience.
Lenore Myka: “When a good friend told me she was changing her name and it was nothing political, I asked her: Isn’t the personal political?”
Barbara Poore: “In the end, can we have both freedom to and freedom from at the same time? As yet, I see no answers.”
Author Claire Stephens reads some candid thoughts on sexual pleasure (and the lack thereof).
Patia Clarke: “Lift your voice, summon hope, summon life.”
Mitzi Gordon reads her uniquely “Redacted” poem, crafted from words between crossed-out lines of Atwood prose. She raises an apple to signal the audience’s response, “Under his eye.”
Lisa L. Kirchner enlists an assistant — Paul Palumbo, her life partner — to present her humorously dystopian infomercial.
Kirchner exuberantly transforms from spokeswoman to woman giving testimonial.
Teana Armstrong gives a stirring, empowering spoken word performance.
Lisa Lanser Rose reads award-winning works that combine humor and painful real-life experiences
Julie Garisto reads a futuristic allegory on spouse abuse with Twilight Zone overtones.
Soft Water Studios displays Wendy Durand’s pottery, inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale.
Limited-edition butterflies by Mark Aeling, identical to the ones used in his sculpture, were for sale.
Mark Aeling’s “Butterfly” stole the spotlight during the event reception. Click here to see a time lapse of its creation.
Wendy Durand, left, with friends Caryn Nesmith and Leigh Davis by Aeling’s “Star Anise.”