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A Brief Introduction to Margaret Atwood
Canadian author Margaret Atwood has written more than 40 books of fiction, poetry, short stories, and critical essays. She is known for her speculative dystopian and historical fiction that examines either the events of the future or the past with a critical feminist perspective. Born in Ottawa, Canada in 1939, Atwood grew up in Toronto, Quebec, and Northern Ontario. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto, as well as a master’s degree at Radcliffe College at Harvard University.
Atwood’s writings span a number of genres, including mystery, thriller, science fiction, and speculative fiction, often featuring a dystopia or altered reality. Some of her early works include The Edible Woman (1969), Surfacing (1972), Lady Oracle (1976), and Life Before Man (1979), which helped established her voice as a feminist writer. In 1985, she published the canonical feminist novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which imagines an oppressive society in the not-too-distant future that trains a class of women to bear children for the gentry.
Margaret has garnered a number of lifetime achievement awards—including the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the Glamour Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Pen Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award—and distinguished honors—including the British Academy’s President’s Medal, the Emerson-Thoreau Medal, and the Lorne Pierce Medal. She has 30 honorary degrees.
6 Acclaimed and Best Selling Novels by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood has written a number of critically-acclaimed and best-selling novels. Some of Atwood’s most notable and award-winning works include:
- The Handmaid’s Tale (1985): This dystopian novel takes place in the fictional world of Gilead, a fundamentalist society that has taken control over much of America and oppresses its citizens with its religious, militant rule. June, renamed Offred under the order of Gilead, narrates the novel as she tries to escape the fate of being a handmaid and being forced to bear children for an aristocratic couple prominent in this society. This novel landed her on the Booker Prize shortlist for the first time. In 2016, the novel spent 88 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller List.
- Cat’s Eye (1988): This novel follows the story of Elaine Risley, a fictional painter who reflects on her life and the relationships that have shaped her work. The book was a finalist for the 1988 Governor General's Award and the 1989 Booker Prize.
- Alias Grace (1996): This work of neo-Victorian historical fiction tells the tale based on the real-life events of the murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, as told in the first person by one of the servants accused of the crime, Grace Marks. This novel won the Canadian Giller Prize, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and in 2017, was turned into a television series.
- The Blind Assassin (2000): This historical novel set in Canada follows the story of Iris Chase and the events from her youth and older years, additionally containing a novel within a novel that Iris is writing herself. This novel won both the 2000 Booker Prize and the Hammett Prize.
- Oryx and Crake (2003): This dystopian romance novel takes place in an apocalyptic world ravaged by chaos and a pandemic. It follows the main character, “Snowman,” his childhood friend “Crake,” and their romantic entanglement with another character, “Oryx.” The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, and the Orange Prize.
- The Testaments (2019): This sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale takes place 15 years after the events of the first novel and is narrated from the perspective of a young woman named Agnes, a character living in Gilead-controlled America. The tale is also narrated by a young woman living in Canada named Daisy, and familiar antagonist Aunt Lydia, whose role has changed since the last novel. This book was a co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, and became the number one hardcover fiction book on The New York Times Best Seller List.
5 Other Writings by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood has also written books of poetry, short stories, graphic novels, and essays. Some other notable works by Atwood include:
- The Circle Game (1966): Atwood’s first professionally published poetry collection, The Circle Game won the Governor General’s Award in 1966.
- The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (2005): This novella is a rewrite of the story of Homer’s Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope, delving into issues of justice and the double standards between the sexes. It became a best seller in Canadian literature.
- Morning in the Burned House (1995): Margaret explores feminist themes in this book of poerty with a focus on female cultural torture and aging. Two of the poems in the book retell the stories of mythological figures Helen of Troy and Sekhmet, the Egyptian goddess of war. The book won the Trillium Award for Excellence in Ontario Writing.
- Stone Mattress: Nine Tales (2014): This short fiction collection contains nine stories that delve into the many different aspects of fantasy and horror, such as creatures, vengeance, murder, and ageist cleansing. The book won the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story.
- Angel Catbird (2016): This New York Times best selling graphic novel tells a humorous, pulp-fiction tale about a genetic engineer who accidentally merges his DNA with a cat and owl’s, becoming a superhero known as Angel Catbird. The book won the Aurora Award for Best Graphic Novel.
Margaret Atwood in Mainstream Media
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Margaret Atwood’s success is not limited to her literary texts alone. Some of Atwood’s works have appeared in mainstream media as television series or films:
- The Robber Bride (2007): Based on Margaret’s 1993 novel, this made-for-TV movie stars Mary Louis-Parker as a meddlesome woman named Zenia, and the lives of the people she has affected with her past behavior.
- The Handmaid’s Tale (2017): This series adapted for Hulu follows the story of Offred (played by actress Elisabeth Moss) in the original novel. The show has won a number of accolades, including 15 Primetime Emmys, three Critics Choice Awards, two Writers Guild of America Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards.
- Alias Grace (2017): One season of Alias Grace was adapted for Netflix in 2017 following the story of Grace Marks as she is evaluated by a psychologist for potential criminal insanity. The show was a winner of multiple Canadian Screen Awards, as well as an award for Best Writing in a Dramatic Program or Limited Series.
- Wandering Wenda (2017): Based on the 2011 children’s book Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery, this animated TV series follows the character of Wenda and her adventures, along with her friends Wu and Wes.
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