Watch Margaret Atwood in conversation with Allan Gregg. From YouTube.
In the 1970s Margaret Atwood was involved with nationalist cultural concerns as an editor for House of Anansi Press (1971-73) and as an editor and political cartoonist for This Magazine. She published SURVIVAL: A THEMATIC GUIDE TO CANADIAN LITERATURE in 1972. When first published, it was considered the most startling book ever written about Canadian literature. Since then it has continued to be read and taught, and continued to shape the way Canadians look at themselves. That same year SURFACING was published,
Continued critical success marked her publication of You Are Happy (1974), which includes a reworking of The Odyssey from Circe's perspective, and her third novel, Lady Oracle (1976) - a parody of fairy tales and Gothic romances - which won the 1977 City of Toronto Book Award and a Canadian Booksellers Association Award. In these years Atwood worked less successfully in new genres, writing several television scripts, including The Servant Girl (CBC, 1974), and a history, Days of the Rebels: 1815-1840 (1977). Her short-story collection Dancing Girls (1977) attracted more positive notice, winning the Periodical Distributors of Canada Short Fiction Award.
Two books followed in 1978: Two-Headed Poems, which continued to explore the duplicity of language, and Up in the Tree, a children's book, which introduced Margaret Atwood the artist. Life Before Man (1979) is a more traditional novel than was her earlier fiction, developing a series of love triangles through exposition rather than poetic image.
In 1980 Margaret Atwood became vice-chair of the WRITERS' UNION OF CANADA. She worked on a television drama, Snowbird (CBC, 1981), and co-published another children's book, Anna's Pet (1980), with Joyce Barkhouse. It was adapted for stage by the Mermaid Theatre (1986). Always interested in civil rights, she was active over several years in Amnesty International, which had an impact on the subject matter of True Stories, a book of poetry, and Bodily Harm, a novel appearing in 1981. In both works she "bears witness," breaking down distinctions she herself makes between poetry (at the heart of her relationship with language) and fiction (her moral vision of the world). She continued her fight against literary censorship as president of PEN International's Anglo-Canadian branch from 1984 to 1986, on whose behalf she edited The CanLit Foodbook (1987).
Margaret Atwood's collected criticism, Second Words (1982), contains some of the earliest feminist criticism written in Canada. Her editorship of the revised Oxford Book of Canadian Poetry (1982) marked her central position among Canadian poets of her generation. Her short-story collection Bluebeard's Egg (1983) won the Periodical Distributors of Canada and the Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Letters Book of the Year Award.
Murder in the Dark (1983), experimental, postmodern prose poems and short fictions, excited critical attention in new circles. Margaret Atwood continued to alternate prose with poetry, with Interlunar (1984) followed by Selected Poems II: Poems Selected & New, 1976-1986 (1986). However, the international critical and popular success of THE HANDMAID'S TALE (1985) - winner of the Governor's General's Award, the Los Angeles Times Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction and the Commonwealth Literary Prize, and shortlisted for the Booker Prize (UK) and the Ritz-Paris-Hemingway Prize (Paris) - a dystopia set in a right-wing monotheocracy located in a nuclear wasteland once known as Boston, won Atwood greater renown as a novelist. Probing the gender biases of historiography, this novel was made into an acclaimed film (1990) and later adapted and produced as an opera by the Royal Danish Opera Society in 2000.
Margaret Atwood's international readership has also been swelled by audiences of her many readings and students of her creative writing and Canadian studies courses in such varied places as the universities of Alabama, New York, Berlin, Macquarie (Sydney) and Trinity (Texas). In 1986 Atwood co-edited The Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English. She co-edited a revised second volume, The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories, in 1995.
The year 1987 brought successes in new literary ventures: the script for Road to Heaven, a television film about the Barnardo children in Canada, and The Festival of Missed Crass, a fantastic and satiric children's story transformed into a musical for the Young People's Theatre.
Cat's Eye (1988), a novel about a visual artist probing questions of subjectivity, creation and temporality, broke literary ground for its exploration of the realm of childhood, with its shifts of power, its secrecies and betrayals. The book received popular and critical acclaim, including the 1989 City of Toronto Book Award, the Coles Book of the Year, the Canadian Booksellers Association Author of the Year Award and the Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Letters in conjunction with Periodical Marketers of Canada Book of the Year Award. Cat's Eye was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Margaret Atwood's international stature as a fiction writer was confirmed with co-editorship of The Best American Short Stories (1989).
New collections of poetry appeared in Canada and England with Selected Poems 1966-1984 (1990), followed by Margaret Atwood Poems 1965-1975 (1991). Wilderness Tips (1991) - winner of the 1992 Trillium Award and the Book of the Year Award of the Periodical Marketers of Canada - stories with Gothic overtones about women facing middle age mixed with narratives about confrontations with the wilderness, was followed by Good Bones (1992), brief texts about female body parts and social constraints written with devastating wit. They were adapted for the stage by Clare Coulter (1998).
After 2 books of short fiction, Atwood published one of her most extraordinary and intricate novels. The Robber Bride (1993), which examined Toronto lifestyles and women's friendships, was received with delight by local audiences, winning the 1993 Canadian Authors Association Novel of the Year Award and the Commonwealth Prize for Canadian and Caribbean Region, and co-winning the 1994 Trillium Award. It was adapted as a television movie in 2007.
Margaret Atwood has continued to write books for children. For the Birds (1990) is part of the "Earth Care" series, designed to increase children's environmental awareness through engaging fiction. Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut (1995) exhibits Atwood's delight in wordplay, as do Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes (2003) and Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda (2004).
In 1995 Atwood published Morning in the Burned House, her first collection of new poems in a decade, which included a sequence of elegiac poems, demonstrating a new emotional range in her work. Eating Fire: Selected Poems, 1965-1995 was published by Virago Press in 1998. Her 2007 poetry collection, The Door, filled with Atwood's customary wit and with reflections on the nature of responsibility, was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Poetry.
Atwood's original literary interests have not been abandoned, but they have taken on a darker shading, as is evident in her literary criticism Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature (1996) delivered as the Clarendon Lectures in English Literature at Oxford University (1991). Despite the many transformations in Canadian literature, especially its predominantly urban cast since Survival was published in 1972, Atwood pursues her obsession with the wilderness theme in the Canadian imagination and examines image clusters connected with the Canadian North, beginning with the image of cannibalism in relation to the doomed Franklin expedition. More recently, and lightly, Atwood and British co-writer Naomi Alderman consider the uncanny and undead in the serialized comic-horror zombie novel The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home (2012-13).
In 1996 Margaret Atwood published her astonishing, highly acclaimed novel ALIAS GRACE. Extensive archival research into the life and times of Grace Marks, one of the most notorious women in mid-19th century Canada, led Atwood to revise her earlier perspective on this accused murderer and to question Susanna MOODIE's opinion in Life in the Clearings (which Atwood had adopted in her 1974 TV script, The Servant Girl). Weaving together Marks's first-person fictional voice with 19th-century journalistic accounts and interviews, letters, traditional patchwork designs and poetry, Atwood's novel raises important questions about truth-telling and representation. How can we ever know another human being? How can we know what exactly happened in the past? The novel rejects the certainty of a verdict on Marks's actions. Instead, through the ironized perspectives of representatives of a number of the emerging 19th-century human sciences, Atwood approaches the matter of judgement obliquely, playing one disciplinary perspective against another, exposing the relations of power and the duplicity of language at the heart of our production of knowledge in law, history, literature and the media. Formally among her most complex narrative structures, Alias Grace is also Atwood's most sophisticated articulation of her long-standing philosophical and political concerns with power, culture and identity. The book was nominated for the Booker Prize, and shortlisted for the Governor General's Award, the Orange Prize (UK), and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (Ireland). The book won the coveted GILLER PRIZE, as well as the Canadian Booksellers Association Author of the Year Award (1996). It also quickly became an international best-seller.
Margaret Atwood's renown grew in other fields and languages. Her Charles R. Bronfman lecture on the novel, In Search of Alias Grace: On Writing Canadian Historical Fiction (1996), was published by the University of Ottawa (1997). Also in 1997 she co-edited, with husband Graeme GIBSON, an anthology of Canadian short fiction, Desde El Invierno, for the Cuban Writers Union. Some of her teenaged writing was collected and edited by Kathy Chung and Sherrill Grace as A Quiet Game and Other Early Works (1997). Two Solicitudes: Conversations (1998) was a translation by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott of radio dialogues with Québec writer and publisher Victor-Lévy BEAULIEU, first published as Deux sollicitudes: entretiens (1996). Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing (2002) considers the place and perception of the writer in society. A companion to her first collection of essays, Second Words (1982), appeared in 2004, entitled Moving Targets: Writing with Intent 1982-2004. This was followed by Writing with Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose 1983-2005 (2005).
The Blind Assassin was published in 2000, to great popular and critical acclaim. This novel won the Booker Prize and was shortlisted for both the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Orange Prize. Set in the first half of the 20th century, The Blind Assassin is a multi-layered narrative collage. Critics praise Atwood's deft handling of multiple voices, perspectives, and plot lines here. The work is intriguingly complex, yet always accessible and compellingly readable.
Margaret Atwood returned to the science-fiction genre with her novel Oryx and Crake, published in 2003. Like The Handmaid's Tale, the book portrays a dystopian future, with humanity brought to the verge of extinction by contemporary social trends and technologies. The book garnered high critical praise and accolades, including being shortlisted for the Orange Prize, the Man Booker Prize and a Governor General's Award. The Year of the Flood (2009) is set in the same time and place, and the plots of the two novels converge. Lyrics from within The Year of the Flood were set to music by Orville Stoeber and released as a CD, Hymns of the God's Gardeners (2009), and a documentary film of the book tour, In the Wake of the Flood, premiered in 2010.
All her writing is noted for its careful craftsmanship and precision of language, which give a sense of inevitability and a resonance to her words. In her fiction Atwood has explored the issues of our time, capturing them in the satirical, self-reflexive mode of the contemporary novel. In The Penelopiad (2005), Atwood invites readers to reconsider the story of Homer's Odyssey as she adopts the perspective and voice of Penelope, backed by a chorus of maidens. Her stage adaptation of The Penelopiad was premiered by England's Royal Shakespeare Company in July 2007. Atwood published two prose collections in 2006: a set of linked stories titled Moral Disorder and The Tent, a series of very short stories and prose fragments.
Atwood's writing, in all her chosen genres, has always been clearly connected to global and personal politics; it particularly focuses on themes of environmental degradation, women's roles in society, and the power dynamics of social organization. Her non-fictional Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (2008), originally delivered as the 2008 Massey Lectures, extends this concern with the social world to a study of the idea of debt throughout history - and, frequently, in literature.
In 2004 Atwood invented the LongPen, a method of signing books remotely. The technology has been developed by Canadian company Syngrafii, in conjunction with Baanto.
Margaret Atwood's writing has had continued critical success since the mid-1960s. Her many honours include the President's Medal, University of Western Ontario (1965), the Centennial Commission Poetry Competition Award (1967), the Union Poetry Prize (1969) and the Bess Hoskins Prize (1974) of Poetry magazine (Chicago), the St Lawrence Award for Fiction (1978), the Radcliffe Graduate Medal (1980), the MOLSON PRIZE (1981), Guggenheim Fellowship (1981), the Welsh Arts Council International Writer's Prize (1982), the Philips Information Systems Literary Prize (1986), a Toronto Arts Award (1986), Ms magazine's Woman of the Year Award (1986), the Ida Nudel Humanitarian Award of the Canadian Jewish Congress (1986), an American Humanist of the Year Award (1987), a YWCA Women of Distinction Award (1988), Centennial Medal, Harvard University (1990), the John Hughes Prize of the Welsh Development Board (1992) and the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation (1992). In 1994 she received the prestigious Le Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence (UK) and, in 1995, the Swedish Humour Association's International Humorous Writer Award. The Norwegian Order of Literary Merit was awarded in 1996, followed by the National Arts Club (US) Medal of Honour for Literature (1997) and the London (UK) Literature Award (1999). In 1998-99 The Handmaid's Tale became required reading for the Agrégation d'Anglais, a national examination in France for high-school and university teachers of English, a rare tribute to a living author. She was awarded the International Crimewriters Association Dashiell Hammett Award (2000) for The Blind Assassin and inducted in Canada's Walk of Fame in 2001. She won the Chicago Tribune Literary Prize in 2005, Spain's prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for Letters in 2008, and Dortmund, Germany's Nelly Sachs Prize for literary contributions to the promotion of understanding between peoples in 2010. At the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Atwood was presented with the Crystal Award, given to cultural leaders committed to improving the state of the world.
Margaret Atwood is the recipient of many honorary doctorates, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, an Honourary Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, a Companion of the Order of Canada and an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Author BARBARA GODARD
J. Castro and K. Van Spanckeren, eds, Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms (1988); A.E. Davidson and C.N. Davidson, eds, The Art of Margaret Atwood (1981); S. Grace, Violent Duality (1980); Grace and L. Weir, eds, Margaret Atwood: Language, Text, and System (1983); Eleonora Rao, Critical Strategies for Identity: The Fiction of Margaret Atwood (1994); Lorraine M. York, ed, Various Atwoods: Essays on the Later Poems, Short Fiction and Novels (1995); Rosemary Sullivan, The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out (1998); Nathalie Cooke, Margaret Atwood: A Critical Companion (2004); Coral Ann Howells, ed, The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood (2006).
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Peruse the official website for Margaret Atwood, internationally acclaimed author of more than fifty volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction.
Random House: Margaret Atwood
See a brief profile of author Margaret Atwood and synopses of her books at the Random House website.
Canadian Poetry: Margaret Atwood
A brief autobiography by Margaret Atwood. From the "Canadian Poetry" website.
Margaret Atwood Society
The Margaret Atwood Society is an international association of scholars, teachers, and students who share an interest in Atwood’s work. Check out the latest news about projects and events concerning Margaret Atwood.
Power Impinging: Hearing Atwood's Vision
A critical review of Margaret Atwood’s poetry from “Studies in Canadian Literature.”
This British Council website is devoted to the life and career of Margaret Atwood.
The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home
Read an online version of the serialized comic-horror zombie novel "The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home" by Margaret Atwood and Naomi Alderman. From the story-sharing website Wattpad.
Margaret Atwood and Shakespeare: The Trumpets of Summer (1964)
This article chronicles Margaret Atwood’s collaboration with John Beckwith on “The Trumpets of Summer,” a choral suite that explores varying perceptions of Shakespeare, theatre by Canadians, and Canada more generally. Check the bottom of the page for related audio clips. From the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project.
A review of Margaret Atwood's "Oryx and Crake," in which the award-winning novelist vividly creates a "late-twenty-first-century world ravaged by innovations in biological science." From the newyorker.com website.
Atwood wins Davos award
A news story about Margaret Atwood winning the Crystal Award at the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos. From thestar.com.
Governor General's appointments to the Order of Canada
Scroll down the page and click on the links to brief biographical notes of recent appointees to the Order of Canada. Click on "Find a Recipient" on the left side of the page to find previous recipients. From the website for the Governor General of Canada.
The Year of the Flood
The website for "Year of the Flood," Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel about a post-apocalyptic future.
Oryx and Crake
A brief synopsis and excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s novel "Oryx and Crake." From the website for McClelland & Stewart Limited.
Listen to Margaret Atwood read a selection of her poetry. From poetryarchive.org.
Oryx and Crake
A "january magazine" review of Margaret Atwood's intriguing futuristic novel "Oryx and Crake."
Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood discuss writing
Listen to a vintage CBC audio clip in which Margaret Atwood discusses her approach to writing with Graeme Gibson interviews.
Margaret Atwood makes her first foray into the undead with The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home Afterword
A news story about a serialized online zombie novel co-authored by Naomi Alderman and Margaret Atwood. Presented chapter by chapter at the Canadian-based story-sharing website Wattpad. From the National Post.
Margaret Atwood's Brave New World Of Online Publishing
Listen to a brief interview with Margaret Atwood about her novel "Positron," published in serialized form on the website "Byliner." See also a link to an excerpt from the novel. From National Public Radio in the US.
Atwood’s best-known tale makes pointe in RWB adaptation
An article about Margaret Atwood's bestseller "The Handmaid’s Tale" being adapted into a ballet in 2013. From the Winnipeg Free Press.