Less than two weeks after turning 79, the prolific author and newfound streaming maven Margaret Atwood confirmed via Twitter on Wednesday morning that she’s been writing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, her chilling 1985 novel about a near-future dystopia in what was once New England, which a toxic environment, a cruel theocracy, and a plague of infertility have combined to transform the land into Gilead—a totalitarian society that, in turn, has transformed a sector of women into handmaids, aka enslaved concubines.
Whereas the titular handmaid, Offred, narrates the original, three different women will narrate The Testaments, which Nan A. Talese/Doubleday will publish on September 10, 2019, picking up the story 15 years after Atwood’s previous final scene featuring Offred. (No spoilers here, though feel free to refresh your memory via SparkNotes.)
Thirty-four years may have passed since then, but it’s no mystery why Atwood has chosen the present day as the time to return to Gilead: the world in fact joined her in doing so nearly two years ago, finding the trailer of the novel’s then-upcoming TV adaptation timely enough to send the decades-old novel shooting right back up to the top of the bestsellers lists. And, as the show’s proven over the past year, interest hasn’t wavered since: by its first season, Hulu’s version of the The Handmaid’s Tale, made in collaboration with Atwood, became the first show from a streaming service to win an Emmy for Best Drama; by its second season, the number of viewers tuning in to its season premieres had doubled, reaching high enough numbers for Hulu to renew it for a third season, shortly after the second kicked off.
Lately, the series’ imagery has been turning up IRL, too. So many women have appeared in public dressed up in the handmaids’ signature scarlet robes and shield-like bonnets that onlookers now barely blink an eye. Having popped up everywhere from South by Southwest to the Texas Senate, it’s now a go-to uniform for protesting increasing threats to issues like environmental conservation and reproductive rights. (As well as, for better or for worse, a new method of marketing campaign.) As for accessories, a protest sign reading “Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again” has proven particularly popular.
Atwood did, after all, set out writing the novel—appropriately enough, in 1984—with a mind to only draw on actual moments in human history, armed with primary sources like newspaper clippings and the Bible. This time around, it seems she plans to do the same with The Testaments: “Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything,” reads an animation accompanying her tweet, which then flashes to another sentence: “The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.”
Margaret Atwood, Elisabeth Moss, and the Women of The Handmaid’s Tale
From left: Margaret Atwood, Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley, Ann Dowd, Madeline Brewer, and Yvonne Strahovski.
Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale and consulting producer of its Hulu series.