"In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt." -- Margaret Atwood
Margaret Eleanor Atwood, CC, O.Ont, FRSC (born November 18, 1939) is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist.While she may be best known for her work as a novelist, she is also an award winning poet, having published 15 books of poetry to date.Many of her poems have been inspired by myths and fairy tales, which have been interests of hers from an early age. Atwood has published short stories in Tamarack Review, Alphabet, Harper's, CBC Anthology, Ms., Saturday Night, Playboy, and many other magazines. She has also published four collections of stories and three collections of unclassifiable short prose works.
She is among the most-honoured authors of fiction in recent history; she is a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Prince of Asturias award for Literature, has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, winning once, and has been a finalist for the Governor General's Award seven times, winning twice.
"A divorce is like an amputation: you survive it, but there's less of you.""A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason.""A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.""A word after a word after a word is power.""An eye for an eye only leads to more blindness.""Another belief of mine; that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.""Because I am a mother, I am capable of being shocked: as I never was when I was not one.""Canada was built on dead beavers.""For years I wanted to be older, and now I am.""Gardening is not a rational act.""I hope that people will finally come to realize that there is only one 'race' - the human race - and that we are all members of it.""I've never understood why people consider youth a time of freedom and joy. It's probably because they have forgotten their own.""If I were going to convert to any religion I would probably choose Catholicism because it at least has female saints and the Virgin Mary.""If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia.""Myths can't be translated as they did in their ancient soil. We can only find our own meaning in our own time.""Never pray for justice, because you might get some.""Popular art is the dream of society; it does not examine itself.""The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose.""The beginning of Canadian cultural nationalism was not 'Am I really that oppressed?' but 'Am I really that boring?'""The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love.""The story as told in The Odyssey doesn't hold water. There are too many inconsistencies.""Their mothers had finally caught up to them and been proven right. There were consequences after all but they were the consequences to things you didn't even know you'd done.""This above all, to refuse to be a victim.""War is what happens when language fails.""We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly.""We thought we were running away from the grownups, and now we are the grownups.""You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer."
Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Atwood is the second of three children of Margaret Dorothy (née Killam), a former dietitian and nutritionist, and Carl Edmund Atwood, an entomologist. Due to her father’s ongoing research in forest entomology, Atwood spent much of her childhood in the backwoods of Northern Quebec and back and forth between Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, and Toronto. She did not attend school full-time until she was 11 years old in sixth grade. She became a voracious reader of literature, Dell pocketbook mysteries, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Canadian animal stories, and comic books. She attended Leaside High School in Leaside, Toronto and graduated in 1957.
Atwood began writing at age six and realized she wanted to write professionally when she was 16. In 1957, she began studying at Victoria College in the University of Toronto. Her professors included Jay Macpherson and Northrop Frye. She graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor of Arts in English (honours) and minors in philosophy and French.
In late 1961, after winning the E.J. Pratt Medal for her privately printed book of poems, Double Persephone, she began graduate studies at Harvard's Radcliffe College with a Woodrow Wilson fellowship. She obtained a master's degree (MA) from Radcliffe in 1962 and pursued further graduate studies at Harvard University for 2 years, but never finished because she never completed a dissertation on “The English Metaphysical Romance”. She has taught at the University of British Columbia (1965), Sir George Williams University in Montreal (1967—68), the University of Alberta (1969—70), York University in Toronto (1971—72), the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa (1985) where she was M.F.A. Chair, and New York University, where she was Berg Professor of English.
In 1968, Atwood married Jim Polk; they were divorced in 1973. She formed a relationship with fellow novelist Graeme Gibson soon after and moved to a farm near Alliston, Ontario, north of Toronto. In 1976 their daughter, Eleanor Jess Atwood Gibson, was born. The family returned to Toronto in 1980. She divides her time between Toronto, Pelee Island, Ontario, and northern Quebec.
The Economist called her a "scintillating wordsmith" and an "expert literary critic", but commented that her logic does not match her prose in Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, a book which commences with the conception of debt and its kinship with justice. Atwood claims that this conception is ingrained in the human psyche, manifest as it is in early historical peoples, who matched their conceptions of debt with those of justice as typically exemplified by a female deity. Atwood holds that, with the rise of Ancient Greece, and especially the installation of the court system detailed in Aeschylus's Oresteia, this deity has been replaced by a more thorough conception of debt.
In 2003, Shaftesbury Films produced an anthology series, The Atwood Stories, which dramatized six of Atwood's short stories.
The Handmaid's Tale received the very first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987. The award is given for the best science fiction novel that was first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. It was also nominated for the 1986 Nebula Award, and the 1987 Prometheus Award, both science fiction awards.
Atwood was at one time offended at the suggestion that The Handmaid's Tale or Oryx and Crake were science fiction, insisting to The Guardian that they were speculative fiction instead: "Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen." She told the Book of the Month Club: "Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction, not a science fiction proper. It contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians." and on BBC Breakfast explained that science fiction, as opposed to what she wrote, was "talking squids in outer space." The latter phrase particularly rankled among advocates of science fiction, and frequently recurs when her writing is discussed.
Atwood has since said that she does at times write Social science fiction, and that Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake can be designated as such. She clarified her meaning on the difference between speculative and science fiction, while admitting that others use the terms interchangeably: "For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can't yet do.... speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand and that takes place on Planet Earth", and said that science fictional narratives give a writer the ability to explore themes in ways that realistic fiction cannot.
Contribution to the Theorizing of Canadian Identitymoreless
Atwood’s contributions to the theorizing of Canadian identity have garnered attention both in Canada and internationally. Her principal work of literary criticism, A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature, is considered outdated in Canada but remains the standard introduction to Canadian literature in Canadian Studies programs internationally.In Survival, Atwood postulates that Canadian literature, and by extension Canadian identity, is characterized by the symbol of survival.This symbol is expressed in the omnipresent use of “victim positions” in Canadian literature. These positions represent a scale of self-consciousness and self-actualization for the victim in the “victor/victim” relationship.The "victor" in these scenarios may be other humans, nature, the wilderness or other external and internal factors which oppress the victimAtwood’s Survival bears the influence of Northrop Frye’s theory of garrison mentality; Atwood instrumentalizes Frye’s concept to a critical tool.More recently, Atwood has continued her exploration of the implications of Canadian literary themes for Canadian identity in lectures such as Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature (1995).
Atwood’s contribution to the theorizing of Canada is not limited to her non-fiction works. Several of her works, including The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin and Surfacing, are examples of what postmodern literary theorist Linda Hutcheon calls “Historiographic Metafiction”.In such works, Atwood explicitly explores the relation of history and narrative and the processes of creating history.
Ultimately, according to her theories in works such as Survival and her exploration of similar themes in her fiction, Atwood considers Canadian literature as the expression of Canadian identity. According to this literature, Canadian identity has been defined by a fear of nature, by settler history and by unquestioned adherence to the community.
Margaret Atwood has repeatedly made observations about our relationships to animals in her works. Atwood offers this observation about eating animals: "The animals die that we may live, they are substitute people...And we eat them, out of cans or otherwise; we are eaters of death, dead Christ-flesh resurrecting inside us, granting us life." Characters in her books link sexual oppression to meat-eating and consequently give up meat-eating. In The Edible Woman, Atwood's character Marian identifies with hunted animals and cries after hearing her fiance's experience of hunting and eviscerating a rabbit. Marian stops eating meat but then later returns to it.
In Cat's Eye, the narrator recognizes the similarity between a turkey and a baby. She looks at "the turkey, which resembles a trussed, headless baby. It has thrown off its disguise as a meal and has revealed itself to me for what it is, a large dead bird." In Atwood's Surfacing, a dead heron represents purposeless killing and prompts thoughts about other senseless deaths.
In March 2008 it was announced by Atwood that she had accepted her first chamber opera commission. Pauline will be on the subject of Pauline Johnson, a writer and Canadian artist long a subject of fascination to Atwood. It will star Judith Forst, with music by Christos Hatzis, and be produced by City Opera of Vancouver. Pauline will be set at Vancouver, British Columbia in March 1913, in the last week of Johnson's life.
Although Atwood's politics are commonly described as being left wing, she has indicated in interviews that she considers herself a Red Tory in the historical sense of the term. Atwood and her partner Graeme Gibson are members of the Green Party of Canada and strong supporters of GPC leader Elizabeth May. Atwood has strong views on environmental issues, and she and her partner are the Joint Honourary Presidents of the Rare Bird Club within BirdLife International. She has been Chair of the Writers' Union of Canada and President of PEN Canada, and is currently a Vice President of PEN International. In the 2008 federal election she attended a rally for the Bloc Québécois, a Quebec separatist party, because of her support for their position on the arts, and stated that she would vote for the party if she lived in Quebec. In a Globe and Mail editorial, she urged Canadians to vote for any other party to stop a Conservative majority.
During the debate in 1987 over a free trade agreement between Canada and the United States, Atwood spoke out against the deal, including an essay she wrote opposing the agreement.
Atwood celebrated her 70th birthday at a gala dinner at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, marking the final stop of her international tour to promote The Year of the Flood. She stated that she had chosen to attend the event because the city has been home to one of Canada's most ambitious environmental reclamation programs: "When people ask if there's hope (for the environment), I say, if Sudbury can do it, so can you. Having been a symbol of desolation, it's become a symbol of hope."
Despite calls for a boycott by Gazan students, and a request to boycott from PACBI Atwood visited Israel and accepted the $1,000,000 Dan David Prize along with Indian author Amitav Ghosh at Tel Aviv University in May 2010. Atwood commented that "we don't do cultural boycotts".