Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario. Her father, Carl Edmund Atwood, was a zoologist who engaged in entomological research during most of Atwood's childhood. Her mother, Margaret Dorothy Killiam, was a former dietician and nutritionist. Atwood was the second of three children. When she was sixteen, Atwood began to study at the University of Toronto. She received her B.A. in 1961, her M.A. from Radcliffe (now Harvard) in 1962, and she continued to study at Harvard from 1962-63, and from 1965-67. In 1968, Atwood married Jim Polk, but they divorced in 1973. She married fellow novelist Graeme Gibson soon after. They had a daughter in 1976, and she helped raise Gibson's two sons from his previous marriage. Atwood has lived in Canada for the majority of her life, but during the 1980s, she spent some time in Germany, England, and France. She currently resides in Toronto. Atwood has also held positions as an English lecturer or writer-in-residence at various universities.
Atwood is known for both the quality and the quantity of her writing. She has published novels, shorts stories, poems, and works of literary criticism. As a critic, she is best known for her Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. This work was published in 1972, at a time when most people did not think there was such a thing as Canadian literature. Atwood is credited for drawing heightened attention to Canadian writers, but Atwood suggests that the creation of new presses, many of them run by writers themselves, was one of the most important factors in the sudden proliferation of Canadian writers. Atwood's identity as a Canadian author has always been very important to her, and she achieved tremendous success in spite of the serious handicap presented by her desire to be known as a Canadian writer.
Atwood has repeatedly reinvented herself over the course of her career. She has written science fiction, speculative fiction, historical fiction, and realistic fiction. Science is usually an important theme in her books, and Atwood agrees that having a father who was a scientist played an important role in her interest in exploring this field. She is quick to point out that despite the negative role science plays in many of her books, she is far from a Luddite. In many interviews, she has emphasized that science is a tool that can be used for remarkable good, but can also be an instrument of evil.
Perhaps Atwood's most famous work is Surfacing (1973), which tells the story of a girl who returns to her childhood home of Quebec to search for her missing father, a botanist who has disappeared in the woods. Other notable works include The Handmaid's Tale, which appeared in 1985, and Cat's Eye, in 1989. The Robber Bride in 1993 was inspired by the story "The Robber Bridegroom" from the Brothers Grimm. Atwood's anti-heroine is a woman named Zenia, a sexual predator who wreaks havoc on the lives of three friends. Alias Grace (1996) was Atwood's first work of historical fiction, inspired by a newspaper article that Atwood read about a woman who had been convicted of murder, but claimed to have no memory of the crime. Atwood won a Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin in 2000, and in 2003, she published Oryx and Crake, one of her most intriguing explorations of the power of science.
Atwood has spoken and written prolifically on the art of writing and on being a writer. Her books often engage with the power of language and the necessity of storytelling and conveying one's point of view through writing or speaking. Atwood is also a feminist writer, and when she first became well known in the 1970s, she was considered not just a role model and groundbreaker for Canadian writers, but for female writers as well. Atwood not only spoke about issues of gender in the world of publishing, she also wrote about many of the issues of concern to feminists from the '70s up to today. Atwood has always commanded a great deal of respect, and one of the explanations for the attention she has received is her insistence on depicting issues of gender, science, power, and truth in all of their complexity. Already considered one of Canada's highest-achieving writers, Atwood will undoubtedly continue to play an important role in Canadian and World Literature throughout her life.
To satisfy the numerous requests of readers, Atwood wrote a follow-up to Oryx and Crake which was published in 2009. Titled The Year of the Flood, the book revives some of the minor characters of Oryx and Crake and follows their trajectories. In particular, the story of the fundamentalist group God's Gardeners is traced during and after the apocalyptic events chronicled in Oryx and Crake. Readers of Oryx and Crake may be interested in reading more about Atwood's dystopic world in this new novel.
Study Guides on Works by Margaret Atwood
Alias Grace is a historical fiction novel written by Margaret Atwood and was first published by McClelland & Stewart on September 1996. The first UK edition was distributed by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
The novel follows the perspective of...
Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale (1985) reveals the strange new world of Gilead. Once the United States of America, Gilead was formed by a military coup that shot the President and members of Congress, suspended the...
Published in 2003, Oryx and Crake is a post-apocalyptic novel set in an unspecified future. The book is written in the same style as many of Margaret Atwood's novels, that of speculative fiction. Although the book reads as if it is telling a...