Thursday, September 26, 2013 | Categories: Episodes |
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A portrait of one of our foremost Canadian writers: Margaret Atwood. Atwood's brilliant mind, caustic tongue and wicked sense of humour, coupled with her prolific and varied work have fuelled her status as an internationally acclaimed writer. On this edition of Rewind, we delve into her past and hear about her childhood surrounded by unusual pets like praying mantises and flying squirrels, the time she was described as a quiet Mata Hari, and the time she rebuked an interviewer for wanting the men and women in her books to get along.
She is truly a literary giant, first making her mark as a poet, then a short story writer, essayist, critic and novelist. Her most recent novel, the third of a trilogy, is called Madd Addam and is a look into a dystopic, but entirely plausible future. Atwood's brilliant mind, caustic tongue and wicked sense of humour, coupled with her prolific and varied work have fuelled her status as an internationally acclaimed writer.
On this show, some of the interviews she has done with CBC Radio. You'll hear stories, wit and some squirming interviewers.
Margaret Atwood published her first book of poetry when she was 21 years old. She printed 200 copies and sold them for 50 cents each. She was almost immediately successful. Her second book of poetry, The Circle Game, won her the Governor-General's Award when she was still in her mid twenties.
The first clip was from 1968 when Atwood was 29 years old. She was Bill McNeil's guest on Assignment.
The following year she published her first novel, called The Edible Woman.
Margaret Atwood's creative flair was evident at an early age. Judy LaMarsh asked about her formative years in an interview from 1975.
Atwood recalls that when she told people she wanted to be a writer, everyone thought she was crazy. As she said in an article in January magazine in 2000, "So far as anybody knew, there only was one Canadian writer and that was Stephen Leacock. So it was an unusual thing for me to have decided to do and I still don't know why I did that."
In 1973 Atwood began a relationship with the novelist Graeme Gibson. The year before, in 1972, when Atwood was an already acclaimed writer, Gibson interviewed her on the program Anthology. She had recently published her second novel, Surfacing. And we must say he sounds a little nervous.
Gibson is himself a writer and has been Atwood's partner for many years.
It's well known that Atwood hates doing interviews. She has refused to allow journalists in to her home. She has a reputation for being prickly and impatient with the media. This was something Hana Gartner learned firsthand in an interview in 1977. Atwood's book of short stories called Dancing Girls had just been released.
Atwood has always been interested not only in many different sorts of writing, but in many causes, from environmentalism to imprisoned writers, Canadian identity to women's issues. On the latter she has said:
"I didn't invent feminism and it certainly didn't invent me. But I'm naturally sympathetic to it.
In 1981, she was featured in a documentary about women and writing on the program Ideas.
In 1986, Atwood released The Handmaid's Tale, which catapulted her into the international limelight and was her first novel to make the Booker Prize short list.
The Handmaid's Tale won numerous awards, although not the Booker. She got that for her tenth novel The Blind Assassin in 2000. And it obviously put Margaret Atwood in a jovial mood as she sat down with Evan Solomon, host of Hot Type shortly thereafter. The main character of the novel is Iris. Evan asked Atwood how she felt when, in spite of all the accolades, she is criticized.
Since then she has continued to be as prolific as ever, writing children's books, essays, newspaper articles, ebooks, the Massey lecture, poetry and a trilogy of speculative fiction that imagines a dystopic future. The final book of that trilogy, called Madd Addam, was published this fall.