News that Margaret Atwood would be speaking in Canberra early next year, sent Reid woman Jenine Westerburg hurtling back almost four decades when the Canadian author very randomly and, without fanfare, spoke to a small group of students at Erindale College.
It was 1982, three years before Atwood's blockbuster The Handmaid's Tale would be published, but the author already had a strong following in Canberra.
Atwood visited the national capital in September, 1982 to attend a literary lunch hosted by The Canberra Times. The demand for tickets was so great, the venue was changed from the Great Hall of University House to the Rex Hotel, to accommodate more than 300 fans.
According to a report at the time, Atwood referred at the lunch to her 1981 novel Bodily Harm, spoke about a return to romance and reckoned hat her involvement then with political causes such as Amnesty and the anti-nuclear movement was as a citizen, not a writer. She believed political activism was not the sole province of artists.
"To make them specific to writers is, I think, other people shoving off responsibility on to artist, the way they used to shove off sexual rebellion and all those other things onto the artistic community, to let the artistic community do it for them," a feisty Atwood said at the time.
So, it was slightly surreal for Jenine Westerburg to remember Atwood visiting a newly-opened Erindale College during that trip 37 years ago.
"Our most fabulous English teacher asked our expressive writing class if anybody would like to stay after school to hear a 'real author' chat to us about writing," Jenine said.
"About five year 11 diehards agreed to, having never heard of this author our teacher talked of; she was from overseas, passing through Canberra, having left teaching to become a full-time writer after some success publishing a couple of novels and poetry.
"I can't recall what was asked, or what was answered, as we sat adolescently-awkwardly around a classroom table with teacher and author, but even now, to think she had stopped by just to talk to this handful of wannabe writers was incredibly gracious of her. She would begin writing The Handmaid's Tale three years after this. And now, yes, praise be, Margaret Atwood's coming to visit our town again."
Another person who remembered Atwood visiting Canberra 37 years ago was 2008 ACT Australian of the Year, social justice advocate, Lin Hatfield Dodds.
Lin said she attended that 1982 literary lunch at the Rex as a young student and then saw Atwood again a few years later at another event when she was living in the Canadian capital Ottawa. "I took all my books and she signed them all," Lin said.
Lin was wearing an Australian tree frog broach and remembers Atwood commented on it, because her company is called O.W. Toad (rearranging the letters in Atwood).
Lin immediately gave the broach to the author. "Well, she's given me endless hours of brilliant reading," she said.
Lin has already got her tickets to Margaret Atwood in Conversation, at the Canberra Theatre on February 19.
"Absolutely," she said.