old Type: What attracts you most about Margaret Atwood's writing?
Nan Talese: Her razor sharp mind, her sense of humor, her ability to cut straight through to the truth and to reveal it in story.
BT: How did you come to be her editor?
NT: In 1975, when I was at Simon & Schuster, Atwood delivered an early draft (very unusual for her) of Lady Oracle. When I read it I was amazed at how she captured the dilemma of the many separate lives women were forced to lead at that time; how totally mad yet true the plot and picture she had divined; and how daring the story was. It started with a favorite subject of mine, suicide, only this one was a false suicide. Several senior editors had read it in the house, but somehow she seemed to like my response to it, so I became her editor.
BT: I hear that she has an interesting way in which she delivers her manuscipt to you. Could you share it with us?
NT: For Cat's Eye, Robber Bride and the most recent novel, Alias Grace, Atwood alerts her US and UK literary agents, her Canadian, British and American publishers and we all assemble in Toronto. The next morning Atwood joins us for breakfast at the hotel and hands each of us a copy of the newest manuscript, neatly tied with a ribbon or wrapped in paper, the color of which has a significance (it is for us to figure out--she will never tell), and then we retire to our rooms to read for the next 48 hours. I am the slowest reader, so always the last to finish. We meet and talk a bit about the book the last afternoon and then that evening she and Graeme Gibson have a marvelous dinner party at their house. It is a fun and focused way to read an author's work, with few phone calls and interruptions.
BT: How did you first hear about Bert Keizer, and what were your initial thoughts when you read Dancing with Mr. D?
NT: I had heard about Dancing with Mr. D at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1995 from my British colleague, Marianne Velmans, who is Dutch and had read Keizer's book. I read only the few pages that had been translated and bought it there.
BT: What are your personal thoughts on physician-assisted suicide?
NT: Physician-assisted suicide is a complicated subject--or the legalization of it is--but I have always felt strongly that one has a right to one's own life, and that right by inference extends to the right to end it.
BT: What do you hope readers will learn from Dancing with Mr. D?
NT: How difficult and complex the subject is, not only for those who wish to live no more, but also for the physician and those who attend the patient. We argue the subject here with little history and what Keizer does is take us across the threshold, into the room of those who wish to die, and brings us to the bedside as he carries out their wish. He is an immensely compassionate and moral man who loves and respects life and his patients, and also respects death. He has a great intelligence, sense of humor, and healthy disrespect for pomposity. These are powerful assets in confronting the subject.
BT: What book that you will be publishing in the near future are you most excited about and why?
NT: It is hard to choose only one, but next month we will publish Gita Mehta's Snakes and Ladders: Glimpses of Modern India. Did you know that one of every six people on the globe is Indian? The country is a cornucopia of different cultures, unique and rich, and Mehta, the author of Karma Cola, delivers it to readers in delightful chapters, weaving her own experience with stories, history and insight into the economy and culture, to create a delightful and smart guide to the soul of this exotic land.
BT: What satisfies you most about being an editor?
NT: The chance to work with writers and to bring to the public's attention their works, which have the ability to move readers by their insight, wit and sheer story-telling ability, and who write about matters that are, to me, significant.
Photo credit: Jill Krementz