Atwood is known for her focus on feminist and environmental themes in her novels, as well as topics of love, loss, and time in her poetry. With this, here are ten facts to indulge in about her, some of which you might recognize, whilst others will certainly surprise you.
Atwood is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Man Booker Prize
Margaret Atwood won the Man Booker Prize, one of the literary world’s most prestigious, for The Blind Assassin in 2000 and more recently for The Testaments in 2019. The latter was split between Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo. Atwood has also received two Governor General’s Literary Awards. The first for The Circle Game, her second collection of poetry, and the second for The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985. Atwood also won the PEN Pinter Prize in 2016 for her promotion of political activism in her collected works.
Margaret Atwood’s parents were both scientists
Margaret Atwood’s parents lived exceptional lives that helped to craft the person she would grow up into. Her father, Carl Edmund Atwood, was an entomologist who studied forests. This meant that Atwood spent a great deal of time in the woods alongside her family. She grew up in Canada and recalls learning in the woods alongside her siblings. Her mother, Margaret Dorothy, was a dietician and nutritionist.
She wrote an opera
Margaret Atwood is not afraid to experiment with a new genre or art form. She has written novels, non-fiction books, books of verse, a comic book, and an opera. It was titled, Pauline. Atwood was commissioned to write it in 2008 and it didn’t premiere until 2014. She wrote the story and all the words while Tobin Stokes wrote the music to accompany it. It follows the later life of Pauline Johnson, a Canadian writer, and performer who died in 1913. The opera focuses specifically on the last days of her life.
As an added note of interest, Atwood also played herself in Wandering Wenda, a children’s animated television series.
Atwood is the honorary President of the Rare Bird Society within Birdlife International
This is a slightly humorous, although very endearing, position that Atwood holds along with her partner, Graeme Gibson. This is one of the many parts of Atwood’s life that signals the importance she places on the environment.
Atwood’s first published volume of poetry appeared in 1961
Margaret Atwood’s first collection of poetry was titled Double Persephone. It remains one of her most popular. The collection was followed by The Circle Game three years later and Expeditions a year after that. The Circle Game was awarded the 1966 Governor General’s Award. Her most recent collections of poetry are Eating Fire: Selected Poems 1965-1995 and The Door. Her next collection is titled Dearly and is set to be released on November 10, 2020. In it, she addresses themes including love, loss, time, as well as, surprisingly, zombies.
She lived in West Berlin during the Cold War
While The Handmaid’s Tale was published in Canada, it was written in several countries, including Germany, in 1984. While speaking about her time there and its influence on The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood describes visiting Czechoslovakia and Poland and senses the atmosphere that she wanted to create in her novel.
The Handmaid’s Tale is dedicated to Atwood’s ancestor, an accused witch
Readers of The Handmaid’s Tale will likely already be aware that Atwood dedicated the novel to Mary Webster. She was one of the first women accused of witchcraft in New England in the 17th century. When she was sixty years old, she was accused and brought to a jury in Boston on “suspicion of witchcraft.” She was found not guilty at the time. A year later, Philip Smith, a hypochondriac and judge in the town of Hadley, accused Webster again. He believed that she had caused his illness. His friends hanged Webster, but she survived.
Many readers have drawn similarities between her life and Offred’s in The Handmaid’s Tale. Plus, according to family lore, Atwood is directly related to Webster, making the connection even more interesting.
Since 1961, Margaret Atwood has published 18 books of poetry and 18 novels
Her remarkable oeuvre is even more expansive than that though. She has also written eleven non-fiction books, nine short story collections, eight books for children, two graphic novels, and several limited editions, small press publications. Some of her best-known novels are The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Robber Bride, and Alias Grace. The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace have both been made into television series. The former streaming on Hulu and the latter on Netflix.
She is an outspoken environmentalist
Readers of her novels will often stumble upon a central theme of environmental awareness in her work. Her Maddaddam series, which includes Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam, is the best example. In these novels, she focuses on a world that has endured an environmental disaster and whose characters are trying to cope with their new world.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Gilead, the dystopian, theocratic government that overthrows America, is only able to take power due to a series of catastrophes that lead to decreased fertility levels and dangerous pollution. Although they never feature prominently in the novel, there are also references to “the colonies”. These are toxic wastelands, areas that disobedient citizens are sent to labor and die.
When asked to speak about her environmentalism, Atwood explained that she writes about futures that are based on what humanity is currently experiencing. They are “probably futures”.
Atwood is part of The Future Library Project
Atwood was the first writer to contribute to this original project conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson. Every year, one writer contributes for the next hundred years. Paterson planted an entire forest to be used for the purpose of printing the book in the future. It won’t be released, nor will any of the work that’s included in it, until 2114.