Why did Margaret Atwood write a book that no one will read until long after she is dead?
It sounds like a bad riddle, but it’s true. In 2014, Canadian author Margaret Atwood completed a story called Scribbler Moon. The story has been sealed in a vault in Norway and will remain unpublished and unread until the year 2114. Since Atwood was born in 1939, she’d have to make it to the age of 175 to go to Scribbler Moon’s book launch.
Atwood is the first author to be invited to contribute to Future Library, a project that will be 100 years in the making. Atwood’s story will join 99 other literary works to be published in the future. One author will be selected each year until the project is completed in 2114.
Future Library is the inspired idea of artist Katie Paterson (http://katiepaterson.org/). Paterson herself planted 1000 Norwegian spruce trees in May 2014 in a managed forest near Oslo, Norway. These trees will grow for 100 years, after which they will become the paper on which the texts of Future Library will be printed.
Since Paterson won’t be around in 2114 either, she set up the Future Library Trust to oversee the project through its 100-year timeline. Each year, the trust will select and invite an author to contribute to the project. According to Future Project’s website, “authors are being selected for their outstanding contributions to literature and poetry and for their works’ ability to capture the imagination of this and future generations.”
In an essay written for Future Library, Atwood describes how daunting it was to write for an audience not even born yet. “What will they be able to understand of my world?” writes Atwood. Atwood likens her contribution to time travel, “sending a manuscript into time. Will any human beings be waiting there to receive it?”
The 2015 contributor to Future Library was British novelist David Mitchell, who wrote a work entitled From Me Flows What You Call Time. Mitchell views the project, which he terms “an Ark of Literature”, as “a vote of confidence in the future.” In his essay, Mitchell points out that “its fruition is predicated upon the ongoing existence of Northern Europe, of libraries, of Norwegian spruces, of books, and of readers.” Mitchell was followed in 2016 by the Icelandic poet Sjón; 2017’s author will be announced later this year.
Future Library is a mind-stretching initiative. None of us alive now will be alive when the 100 works are published in 2114. Some of the future contributing authors haven’t even been born yet. Others have been born, but do not yet know they will become writers.
The whole Future Library project is operating on faithfaith in the future and in our future selves. Faith that a tree planted today will maturenot for us to enjoy, but for future generations.
For more information on the Future Library project, visit https://www.futurelibrary.no/
Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario.