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Atwood, Margaret

Margaret Atwood is a novelist, poet, journalist, literary critic, businesswoman and environmental activist. She was born in Ottawa, Canada, on 18th  November 1939, to Carl Edmund Atwood – an entomologist – and Margaret Dorothy Atwood – a nutritionist. Due to the nature of her father’s work, the young Margaret Atwood was frequently outdoors, and developed a fascination with the Canadian landscape. From a young age she was an extremely keen reader of short stories, tales and comic books.

In 1946, the family moved to Toronto, where Margaret graduated from Leaside High School in 1957. She went on to take a bachelor’s degree in English Literature at the University of Toronto, before relocating to the United States for a master’s degree at Radcliffe College, Massachusetts, in 1961. Shortly before starting at Radcliffe, Atwood privately printed a book of poems named Double Persephone, which won the E J Pratt Medal. This was her first major literary success, and explored the connection between human beings and the natural world around them.

From 1965 through to 1985, she lectured at a range of universities around the world, including the University of British Colombia and New York University – where she became Berg Professor of English. She was largely influenced by the feminist movement that started in the 1960s, and this was reflected in her literary and critical writing. In 1969 she published The Edible Woman, her first major novel and a powerful feminist text.

Atwood published Oryx and Crake  in 2003, a novel which has drawn critical acclaim due to its interaction with the theme of environmental pollution and destruction. She has described the novel as a work of 'speculative fiction', distinguishing between this and science fiction in the fact that speculative fiction is more grounded in reality.

Margaret Atwood is known for her interest in artistic and technological innovation. In 2004, she invented the LongPen, a form of remote technology which allowed her to sign books for her fans without physically carrying out book tours. In 2014 she wrote a novel called Scribbler Moon  for the Future Library Project, an arts project that aims to collect one piece of fiction by a famous author every year until 2114, and then release the whole collection. Atwood was the first contributor to the project.

Recent publications include Hag-Seed (2016), a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, and The Testaments, a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, which was co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize.
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1939

Born

Born in Ottawa, Canada, to Carl Edmund Atwood and Margaret Dorothy Atwood.
1946

Moved to Toronto

This is where Atwood went to high school, and experienced a natural landscape that influenced much of her early work.
1957

Graduated from high school and started university

Left Leaside High School, Toronto. Having decided at a young age that she wanted to be a writer, Atwood pursued her university studies in English Literature at the University of Toronto.
1961

Published Double Persephone and began studying for a master’s degree

This poetry collection was Atwood’s first major success, and gave her a springboard into great critical recognition. Soon after, she began studying for her master’s degree at Radcliffe College, Massachussetts.
1962

Began studying for a PhD at Harvard University

Studied for two years, but did not complete her dissertation on 'The English Metaphysical Romance'.
1965

Taught at the University of British Colombia

This was her first lecturing position after completing her BA and MA studies.
1967

Began teaching at the Sir George Williams University

Atwood taught at this university in Montreal from 1967 to 1968.
1969

Published The Edible Woman; began teaching at the University of Alberta.

Established Margaret Atwood as a significant novel writer. She went on to publish 15 further novels. The Edible Woman was inspired by the second-wave feminist movement that began in the 1960s, led by theorists such as Simone de Beauvoir and Julia Kristeva.

Taught at Alberta until 1970.

1971

Began teaching at York University

Taught at York University, Toronto, from 1971 to 1972.
1985

Published The Handmaid’s Tale

This is arguably Atwood’s most famous novel. It won the 1985 Governor General’s Award, the 1987 Arthur C. Clarke Award, and was a finalist for the 1986 Man Booker Prize.

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2003

Published Oryx and Crake; taught at the University of Alabama and New York University

Finalist for the 2003 Man Booker Prize and Governor General’s Award, shortlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction.

Atwood was visiting MFA Chair at Alabama, and Berg Professor of English at NYU.

2004

Invented the LongPen

A form of technology that allowed her to sign books remotely. Atwood, alongside her writing, is a businesswoman with a strong interest in technological advances.
2014

Wrote Scribbler Moon

Atwood was the first contributor to the Future Library Project, an arts and heritage project that aims to collect one new literary work each year until 2114.
2016

Published Hag-Seed

The novel is a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest as part of a project by Hogarth Press in which several authors have reworked various Shakespeare plays.

Find out more about Hogarth Shakespeare

2019

The Testaments was co-winner of the Booker Prize

This sequel to The Handmaid's Tale was the joint winner of the Booker Prize, sharing the award with Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo.

Read a review of the book