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Tymon Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Footnotes: Margaret Atwood

She’s most recognised as a novelist but Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, who celebrates her 73rd birthday today, began her writing life as a poet.

She’s most recognised as a novelist but Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, who celebrates her 73rd birthday today, began her writing life as a poet.

Born in Ottawa, the daughter of a forest entomologist, Atwood didn’t go to school full-time until she was in Grade 8. She began writing poems at the age of 6 and decided she wanted to pursue a profession as a writer when she was 16.

In 1961, at the age of 22, she won the EJ Pratt Medal for poetry for her collection Double Persephone. She once wrote: “With a lyric poem you look, meditate and put the rock back. With fiction you poke things with a stick to see what will happen.”

She continued to write poetry before publishing her first novel The Edible Woman in 1969. Married in 1968 and divorced in 1973, Atwood once said: “A divorce is like an amputation; you survive, but there’s less of you.”

It was with her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985, that Atwood received international attention.

A dystopian tale of a near future set in a totalitarian theocracy in which women are subjugated, the novel won the first Arthur C Clarke Award for Science Fiction in 1987 and was nominated for the 1986 Nebula Award and Booker Prize. It became a film in 1990, directed by Volker Schlöndorff and written by Harold Pinter.

Atwood was subsequently twice nominated for the Booker Prize for her novels Cat’s Eye and Alias Grace before she won the award in 2000 for The Blind Assassin.

Now a regular tweeter and social activist who has written about Canadian literature, debt and science fiction, Atwood continues to write short fiction, poetry and novels with the third novel in her Oryx and Crake trilogy, Maddaddam, due for publication next year. She lives in Toronto with novelist Graeme Gibson.

 

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