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Margaret Atwood


A Biography

Margaret Atwood is a prolific and honoured Canadian writer who is widely recognized as a feminist, social activist and an advocate of developing writers. To date Margaret Atwood has written over 35 books- novels, short stories, poetry, literary criticism, social history, and books for children. Her books have been published around the world in more than 22 languages. Writing seemed to be a life long calling for Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood began writing in early childhood and by mid adolescence she knew that she definitely wanted to be a writer. Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa on November 18, 1939. Her father was an entomologist and eight months of each year he did insect research in the forest, so she spent part of her childhood living in the wilderness of northern Quebec. To entertain herself and escape the loneliness of the wilderness, Atwood read books. Atwood began writing at the age of six and wrote poems, morality, plays, and comic books. In 1946 the Atwood family moved to Toronto, but Margaret was eleven before she attended school full time. Atwood became a poet at the age of sixteen when, as she says 1"a large invisible thumb descended from the sky and pressed down on the top of my head" and a poem was written. Atwood graduated Leaside High School in 1959 and wrote in her high school yearbook her intention 2"to write the great Canadian novel." She was determined to develop the craft of writing so continued her education. Margaret Atwood studied and began publishing her writing at the same time. In 1961, Atwood completed her bachelor's degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and self-published her first book- a collection of poems called Double Persephone. This book won the E.J.Pratt medal. About her first book, Atwood said, 3"I had the use of a small flatbed press, and with the help of a friend I painstakingly hand-set my first book which was extremely short, luckily, because there was a shortage of A's and we had to disassemble each poem before we could set up the next one." She sold the book for fifty cents each. Atwood won a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and became a graduate student at Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts and received her M.A. in 1962. She continued her studies of Victorian literature at Harvard from 1962-63 and 1965-67, working toward a Ph.D., which she did not complete. During this time she published a second book of poetry, The Circle Game (1964 rev. 1966), for which she received the Canadian Governor General's Award for poetry in 1966. Atwood expressed her feminist views through her writing.

Margaret Atwood voices strong feminist themes through her writing. In several of her books the female protagonist is a representation of "every women" who is victimized and minimized by gender and politics. Her novels that illustrate her strong feminist views are The Edible Women (1969), Lady Oracle (1976), The Handmaid's Tale (1985), Cat's Eye (1988), and her most recent novel Alias Grace (1996). These novels portray the strength and proactive nature of women as they struggle with inequality. Awards she received that recognized her contribution to feminists issues are 1986, Ms. Magazine, Woman of the Year and 1988, YWCA Women of Distinction Award. Atwood is also a social activist.

Civil rights always interested Atwood and she was active several years in Amnesty International, an organization helping free prisoner's throughout the world. Her involvement with Amnesty International influenced her writing of True Stories (1981) a book of poetry and the novel Bodily Harm (1981). Atwood's social activism has been awarded by the 1986, Ida Nudel Humanitarian Award and the, 1987, Humanist of the Year Award and the 1987, Council for Advancement and Support of Education, Silver Medal. As well as working to support the rights of women and prisoners, Atwood also has encouraged the education of developing writers.

Margaret Atwood has helped developed the skills of writers through teaching at many universities in Canada, the U.S. an Australia. She has been a lecturer at the University of British Columbia and Sir George Williams University of Montreal and was an assistant professor of English at York University in Toronto. Atwood was a Writer-In-Residence at the University of Toronto and M.F.A. Honorary Chair at the University of Alabama at Tuscalossa, was the Berg Chair at New York University and was the Writer-In-Residence at both Macquarie University at Australia and Trinity University at San Antonio, Texas. Margaret used her words and her fame to advocate for the rights of writers. From May 1981-May 1982 Atwood was president of the Writers Union of Canada and from 1984-1986, she was president of International P.E.N. in Canada. She spoke strongly in defense of copyright legislation stating that authors should be financially compensated for the use of their writing because this can help support struggling writers. Atwood is also generous with her time and books.

To further support develop writers and social causes, Atwood will visit universities and charity fund-raisers. She will also donate books, personal items or money to charities but has to limit them to Canadian only charities. Atwood has contributed a lot Canadian literature and Canadian people.

Margaret Atwood has given Canadians much through her writing and she has been recognized for her contributions. Her intention of writing the great Canadian novel became true. She has written 35 books, and has received 55 awards and 12 honorary degrees. As well as being a writer she has also been a wife and a mother. She married writer Graeme Gibson and they have three children. Presently Margaret and Graeme live together with their daughter Jess, in Toronto. Her writing entertains and provokes thinking. As a writer Atwood uses her words and the voices of her characters to sell her values, stand on social issues and her views on the inequalities in the world. Her voice is strong and loud.

Margaret Atwood Profile

The Life of Margaret Atwood