Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born on November 18th, 1939 in Ottawa, Ontario to parents Carl Edmund Atwood and Margaret Dorothy.
While she had been writing since the tender age of 6, she did not go to school full-time until she was 12. Her love for reading and writing continued to grow, thus, she decided to pursue writing professionally at the age of 16. She graduated from Victoria College at the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts in English, a minor in Philosophy, and a minor in French in 1961. Following her Bachelor’s degree, Atwood obtained a Masters from Radcliffe College of Harvard University and got partway through her doctorate. Subsequently, her writing skill and accomplishments landed her placements teaching English at several Universities across Canada and the U.S. between 1964 and 1989.
Atwood did not wait until she was done with her Masters to publish her first piece of writing. Her first book of poetry, Double Persephone, was published in 1961 and won her the E. J. Pratt award. Atwood self-published Double Persephone, which she handset herself. Double Persephone is an extremely rare pamphlet, as Atwood only made 220 copies.
Margaret Atwood expanded her boundaries with her first non-poetry publication and first novel, The Edible Woman, which was published in 1969. Centering on consumerist culture, this novel ties in with Atwoods’ frequent focus on gender stereotypes, identity, and the social construction of gender. As Atwood continued to publish through the 1970s, her work became more popular and widely recognized.
In 1985, Atwood published The Handmaid's Tale, a work of what Atwood terms “speculative fiction,” which follows a woman named Offred, a “handmaid” forced to bear children for the rulers of the dystopian nation of Gilead. The Handmaid's Tale collected seven different literary awards and nominations, such as the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. In 1990, the novel was adapted into a film directed by Volker Schlöndorff. The novel has also been adapted for stage and radio several times. Most recently, The Handmaid's Tale has been adapted into a television series by Hulu.
As Atwood continued to produce novels, short fiction, children’s books, poetry, and non-fiction through the ’90s, her acclaim continued to grow. Her novels The Robber Bride (1993) and Alias Grace (1996) were finalists for several awards. However, her tenth novel, The Blind Assassin (2000), truly brought her work to the public eye. Only a year after its publication, Margaret Atwood was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Atwood continued publishing following the turn of the century, and over the course of her writing career, she has published over 60 assorted novels, non-fiction books, poetry books, children’s books, and graphic novels. Notable works since 2000 include Oryx and Crake (2003), and The Testaments (2019), a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). Her work has been translated into over 30 languages, and she has received over 30 awards and more than 20 honorary degrees from universities in Canada, the U.S., England, Ireland, Spain, and more.
Throughout Atwood’s writing career, several common themes have emerged. Her work often focuses on symbols of Survival as representations of Canadian identity in literature. The relationship between humans and animals is also a frequent concept Atwood investigates. Atwood does not limit herself to these themes; her recurring focus on gender stereotypes and representations has also spiked interest in her work from feminist audiences. However, she has resisted having her work labeled as feminist, as she believes the term to have too many definitions. In a similar vein, Atwood has resisted having pieces of her work categorized as science fiction. She maintains that the terms “speculative fiction” and “social science fiction” better portray her writing. Atwood’s opposition to exterior labels extends beyond feminism and science fiction–she holds that others shouldn’t read too much into authors’ personal lives based on their writing. While Margaret Atwood may defy labeling, her intimate and intricate writing continues to impress and captivate audiences in Canada and around the globe.