Margaret Atwood

M argret Atwood’s most well-known book is The Handmaid’s Tale which has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. It is considered one of the world’s best examples of dystopian fiction ever written. Her first collection of poetry Double Persephone was published in 1961. Others include The Circle Game, Power Politics, In Procedures for Underground, and Morning in the Burned House. Some of her most popular poems includeProcedures for Underground’ and Siren Song’. She is considered to be one of Canada’s best living writers. 

Margaret Atwood


Life Facts

  • Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, in 1939.
  • Her first poetry collection was published in 1961.
  • She was the Berg Professor of English at New York University.
  • She has so far written eighteen books of poetry, eighteen novels, as well as works for children and graphic novels.
  • Atwood has won the Man Booker Prize as well as the Arthur C. Clark Award.

Interesting Facts

  • She began attending school regularly when she was twelve years old.
  • At sixteen she knew she wanted to be a writer.
  •  Atwood’s tenth novel, ‘The Blind Assassin’, won The Man Booker Prize.
  • Her most popular novel, ‘The Handmaid’s Talehas recently been made into a very popular television series.
  • She participated in the Canongate Myth Series in which popular authors retold classic mythological tales.


Famous Poems by Margaret Atwood

‘Bored is a clever one stanza poem that speaks on the nature of life. The speaker describes how there used to be someone controlling her but that’s all in the past now. At this moment shes able to look back on her life and she the truth of this relationship. The happy moments were in fact dull and confining. 

 

‘Flying Inside Your Own Body’ is filled with interesting images as Atwood uses lungs and breath to speak on concepts of freedom. She describes the difference between the world inside one’s body, where you can be free, and that which exists outside. There, one is confronted with restraints that don’t exist in the imagination or in a dream world.

 

‘Sekhmet the Lion-headed Goddess of War’ is one of Atwood’s poems that uses a mythological basis to tell a new story. In this case, Sekhmet, an Egyptian goddess is described as a warrior queen who has no desire to sit around in a museum with Osiris. Instead, she’d like to escape back to the past, to the world of myths where she has true strength and freedom.

 

Hesitations Outside the Door is a short poem that speaks on lies that one tells in their own mind. It’s possible, the speaker thinks, that she’s been lying in the wrong way to herself. Perhaps she should’ve been telling different lies. There are others that could’ve been more helpful to her. She’s on one side of a door unable to get to the other. It’s closed to her.

 

‘Crow Song’ discusses the world of crows. They are the speaker’s “people” but they ignore her. They have “gave, skeptical eyes” that care about nothing but the next place they’re going to find their seed. It’s in the last lines of the poem that the speaker reveals the connections between the world of crows and the world of human beings. They too have endless wards and leaders that squabble.

 


Early Life

Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in November of 1939. She was one of three children born to father, Carl Edmund Atwood, who worked as an entomologist, and mother Margaret Dorothy who was a nutritionist. Atwood spent a lot of time with her father in the wooded areas of northern Quebec during her childhood. She also spent much of her youth traveling between Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie and Toronto. Atwood’s first plays and poems were written when she was around six years old. 


Education

Atwood only began to attend school regularly when she was twelve years old. During this time period, she read a great deal. She would go on to attend Leaside High School in Toronto. At the age of sixteen, she knew that she wanted to become a writer, and when she began attending Victoria College at the University of Toronto she began publishing. Her work would appear in the college literary journal, Acta Victoriana. Atwood also participated in a sophomore performance of The Bob Comedy Revue. She graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Arts in English and minors in philosophy and French. 

 

In the early 60s, Atwood began her graduate work at Radcliffe College, Harvard University. She also started a doctoral degree but did not finish her dissertation. It was also during this time period that Atwood published her first book of poetry, Double Persephone. It was published in 1961. This work won the E.J. Pratt Medal. She would continue her career lecturing English at the University of British Columbia, Sir George Williams University, and The University of Alberta. She followed her first collection with The Circle Game and The Animals in That Country. 


Literary Career

 In 1968, Atwood married Jim Polk, who was also a writer. It was a year later that her first novel, The Edible Woman, was published. It is considered to be a great example of the feminist views which would become prevalent within her later work. Atwood and her husband did not remain together for long, divorcing in 1973. 

 

She would continue to teach throughout the early 1970s. These years were extremely prolific for the writer. She produced six collections over the decade as well as the novels, Surfacing, Lady Oracle, and Life Before Man. This last novel was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. 

 

In the mid-late 70s, Atwood began a relationship with another novelist, Graeme Gibson. The two moved to Alliston, Ontario. It was here that their daughter, Eleanor, was born. The next novels that Atwood published solidified her career. The first was Bodily Harm, published in 1981, and The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985. This novel won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Governor General’s Award. It was also a finalist for the 1986 Booker Prize. This was followed by Cat’s Eye which was also a finalist for the Booker Prize. 

 

In the 1980s Atwood was the MFA Honorary Chair at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. She was also the Berg Professor of English at New York University and the Writer-In-Residence at Trinity University, San Antonio in 1989. 

 

The 1990s saw Atwood continue to expand her collection of novels. She published The Robber Bride in 1993 and Alias Grace in 1996. Alias Grace was a finalist for the Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Award. Atwood’s tenth novel, The Blind Assassin, won the Booker Prize, the monetary award from which she donated to environmental and literary causes. The Blind Assassin also won the Hammett Prize in 2000. It was received a great deal of praise from critics. A year later she was introduced into Canada’s Walk of Fame. 


Recent Works

More recently, she published Oryx and Crake, the first in an apocalyptic science fiction trilogy which included The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam. Atwood was a participant in the Canongate Myth Series in which short novels were written as retelling and expansions of ancient myths. Her contribution was titled, The Penelopiad, and concerned Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, and the struggles she went through in his absence. More recently, Atwood published Hag-Seed which was a retelling of The Tempest, a play by William Shakespeare. It was part of another series developed by Penguin Random House. 


Influence from other Poets

Margaret Atwood was notably influenced by writers such as William Shakespeare, Alice Munro, Virginia Woolf, and George Orwell.


Poems by Margaret Atwood

Explore poetry by Margaret Atwood below, analyzed by the team at Poem Analysis.

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