THE FUTURE IS NOW: Tuesday afternoon’s rain outside of Oslo did not dissuade Margaret Atwood from trekking through the Nordmarka forest where she personally delivered her literary contribution for The Future Library. Founder Katie Paterson was on hand to accept “Scribbler Moon,” which will one day be part of an anthology of 100 books complied over 100 years’ time. Atwood was the first of what will be a total of 100 authors who will present a text that will be held in trust in a specially designed room in the New Public Deichmanske Library in Oslo. Each work will remain unpublished until the year 2114, when they will be removed from their respective boxes and made technologically available. British novelist David Mitchell will follow in Atwood’ s footsteps as the Future Library’s 2015 contributor, and only the second writer to be revealed.
To offset the environmental impact of The Future Library’s 100 manuscripts, 1,000 trees have been planted in Nordmarka, where Atwood was trailed by about 75 fans Tuesday for the presentation and an al fresco reading. Her work, as well as the words of the 99 who follow, will be housed in the new Deichmanske Public Library, which is slated to open in 2019 in Oslo. Designed by Atelier Oslo and Lund Hagem Architects, the cantilevered Modernistic structure is being built in Bjørvika, Oslo’s former container port where it will join the National Opera and the yet-to-be-opened Munch Museum in what is meant to be Norway’s new cultural hub. The Future Library dovetails into Slow Space, a major public arts program that will include special events, and publications will unfold over the next four years. Meant to challenge preconceptions about conventional public art, the initiative is anchored in an area of the city undergoing complete regeneration. It is also reliant on artists and set up to play out over time through collective activity.
Atwood said Wednesday, “How strange it is to think of my own voice — silent by then for a long time — suddenly being awakened, after 100 years. What is the first thing that voice will say, as a not-yet-embodied hand draws it out of its container and opens it to the first page?”
Penguin Group editor Simon Prosser connected Mitchell, whose portfolio includes “The Bone Clocks” and “Cloud Atlas,” with Paterson. Mitchell described his ties with Norway as “limited but positive,” having translated with his wife Keiko ‘The Reason I Jump,’ a book by a young Japanese man with autism that became a bestseller there. “I also have a weakness for Vikings and Icelandic history, which obviously leads back to Norway.” Mitchell said.
As for why he got involved with The Future Library, Mitchell said, “Vanity and humility. Vanity, because the project makes it likely that I’ll still have readers in the next century, that at least one of my books will survive my death, and that I’ll have a berth in the same Noah’s Ark as some of the most talented writers in the upcoming century. Humility, because however good my contribution may be, I’ll be long dead before anyone can tell me ‘God, I loved that book, well done.’ (Of course, I’ll also be turning to compost long before they can tell me, ‘God, Mitchell, that just sucked!’)”
“There’s something pure about writing for the eyes of the not-yet-born only. Also, I thought, ‘If it’s good enough for Margaret Atwood, it’s good enough for me.'” he continued. “The Future Library is also a vote of confidence that there’ll still be a civilization capable of bringing a century-long art project to fruition in 2114. The whole enterprise has a tasty George Perec-esque bonkersness about it.”
In regards to the future of publishing, Mitchell said, “My take is to wait and see and to not make guesses about trends that haven’t finished or started yet. The future’s the future, because it’s still obscure: it’s still obscure, because it’s the future. Reports of the death of the book, however, appear to have been greatly exaggerated.”
Mitchell still hasn’t decided which idea he will crystallize into his contribution but he has nearly a year to figure it out. All of his working copies will be disposed of, before he make his way through the Nordmarka to turn in his own work. “I won’t find out if the deadline is pliable or not because I will keep to it.” he said. “This isn’t the sort of project I want to have hanging around half-finished for months and years.”