An Evening with Margaret Atwood

Literature to Explore Our Genetic Engineering Futures. 

A CHASS Lightning Rod Event
Friday, November 15, 2019, 6:00-7:30 PM

State Ballroom, Talley Student Union, NC State

It is impossible to talk about dystopian literature without mentioning Margaret Atwood, who has been described as the most important living author of our time. A true literary legend with over 50 novels, including The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood’s writing has proved as timeless as it is prophetic. She has won numerous awards and honors including the Man Booker Prize, Arthur C. Clarke Award, Governor General’s Award, and the National Book Critics and PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Atwood has always possessed the uncanny ability to predict the future of technologies and society and nowhere is that more apparent than in her book Oryx and Crake (2003): covering a host of issues including genetic manipulation, corporate domination, and global pandemics. In her talk, Ms. Atwood shared her thoughts on how she uses literature to explore our genetic engineering futures, challenging the audience to think critically and engage with the world around them from different angles.


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See event program: full-layout or mobile-friendly

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Members of the NC State community have exclusive access to the videos of the keynote address and student discussion panel. Requires login with Unity ID.

Keynote Talk

Margaret Atwood giving keynote talk at Talley Student Union

Watch Margaret Atwood’s keynote talk and conversation here

Student Discussion

Margaret Atwood student discussion session

Watch Margaret Atwood’s student discussion session here

See how Margaret Atwood spent her day at NC State prior to her keynote talk (video)
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Photo of Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood and the Biotechnology of Tomorrow

November 18, 2019 | Elizabeth Beal, NC State News

On November 15, 2019, NC State hosted world-famous author Margaret Atwood for a daylong visit that included a group discussion with students and faculty, and a keynote speech: “An Evening with Margaret Atwood: Literature to Explore Our Genetic Engineering Futures,” a College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) Lightning Rod event. Her visit was sponsored by the Genetic Engineering and Society Center (GES), in collaboration with the Friends of the Library at NC State and a groundbreaking new art exhibit at the Gregg Museum of Art and Design, Art’s Work in the Age of Biotechnology: Shaping Our Genetic Futures. Read more >

Margaret Atwood discusses her ‘prophetic’ novel, effects of new science developments on society

November 17, 2019 | Rachel Davis, Technician

The evening began at 6 p.m. with an exciting welcome from Jennifer Kuzma, co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center. Kuzma said the mission of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center was to guide biotechnologies in responsible and sustainable ways. She stressed the importance of integrating social sciences, natural sciences, engineering and the humanities to tackle these issues and hold each other accountable for possible misuse of the new technologies. Read more >

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From Reviews of Oryx and Crake:

“Atwood herself, from a family of scientists, is far from confused when it comes to biology. The bioengineered apocalypse she imagines is impeccably researched and sickeningly possible: a direct consequence of short-term science outstripping long-term responsibility. And just like the post-nuclear totalitarian vision of The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), this story is set in a society readers will recognise as only a few steps ahead of our own.”
Helen Brown, for The Daily Telegraph, 5/11/2003

“But a dystopian novel is not intended as a literal forecast, or even necessarily as a logical extension of our current world. It is simply, and not so simply, a bad dream of our present time, an exquisitely designed horror show in which things are changed from what we do know to a dream version of what we don’t… Besides, given what is known about fish-gene-enhanced tomatoes—or those genetically modified goats that produce spider silk—the biologically reengineered world of “Oryx and Crake” ceases to seem very far-fetched.”
From Bioperversity, by Lorrie Moore, for The New Yorker, 5/3/2003

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Related Courses

Students enrolled in the following courses read Oryx and Crake and participated in an hour-long group discussion with Ms. Atwood on Friday, November 15, prior to the general event later that evening.

WGS 350 — Emerging Issues in Women’s and Gender Studies: Feminist Futures

Instructor: Patsy Sibley, M/W 11:45 AM – 1:00 PM, 3 credits

Course description
This experimental course seeks to both explore and disrupt dominant narratives of “the future” by exploring the possibilities of alternative futures as imagined by and with feminist communities and feminist thinkers. By examining critical technology studies, theories of feminist technoscience, and speculative and science fiction across media, we will work to interrogate the ways in which technologies have been used to create, sustain, or challenge systems of power and oppression and to imagine new possibilities. Prerequisites: WGS 200 or WGS/STS 210

STS 403 — Capstone Seminar in Science, Technology & Society

Instructors: Matthew Booker and Julie Wesp, 2 sections – Wed 3:00 – 5:45 PM or T/TH 4:30 – 5:45 PM, 3 credits

Course description
Capstone course for the Science, Technology, and Society [STS] major. Review of the principal theoretical and empirical issues of the field. Research project focused on each student’s STS specialty. Prerequisites: STS 214, STS or STB Majors

ENG 588 — Fiction Writing Workshop

Instructor: Belle McQuaide Boggs, Thur 4:30 – 7:15 PM, 3 credits

Course description
Advanced work in techniques of writing fiction for students with substantial experience in writing. Workshop sessions with students commenting on each other’s work. Prerequisite: ENG 488 or ENG 489

GES 591 — Special Topics in Genetic Engineering and Society

Instructor: Zachary Brown, Tues 12:00 – 1:00 PM* (sec 002), 1 credit

Course description
The GES Colloquium hosts a local, national, or international speaker weekly to discuss complex and contentious issues around genetic engineering and society.  *Note: Time and location listed incorrectly in course catalog. Room will be Poe 202.
Go to Course Catalog

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Planning Committee

Event Co-chairs

Jennifer Kuzma

Patti Mulligan

Sharon Stauffer


Katie Barnhill-Dilling
Belle Boggs
Matthew Booker
Leia Droll
Marian Fragola
Fred Gould

Karey Harwood
Allison Hughes
Ellen Klingler
Todd Kuiken
Evelyn McCauley
Lorena McLaren

Molly Renda
Hannah Star Rogers
Patsy Sibley
Chris Tonelli
Julie Wesp

Additional logistical support provided by the staff of:

Gregg Museum of Art and Design
NC State University Police

Rave! Events
Talley Student Union
and Greenhouse Picker Sisters

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Partners and Sponsors

An Evening with Margaret Atwood and its related events and activities were made possible by the generous support from and collaborative partnerships with the following:

Friends of the LibraryNC State University LibrariesNC State College of Humanities and Social Sciences - Lightning Rod Series GrantNC State College of Sciences - Spirit of Science Illumination Fund

NC State Department of EnglishNC State Science, Technology, and Society (STS)NC State Women's and Gender Studies (WGS)

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A very special THANK YOU to our Friends of the GES Center donors

Platinum Level

Joe Bridger

Silver Level

Jeanne Anderson
Mary-Irving Campbell
Carolyn Dunn
Caroline Hickman-Vaughn and Jane Hamborsky
Dolly Whiteside

Bronze Level

Jade Berry-James
David Berube
Joseph Fustero
Linda Grady
Daniel Grushkin
Anna O'Connell


Melanie Graham
Nora Haenn

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