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Margaret Atwood: A precocious and creative child

Poet, novelist, storywriter and essayist — the Ottawa native is a Canadian literary giant. Margaret Atwood first raised eyebrows as a young poet in the 1960s. Since then, one of Canada's most written about writers has struggled to keep her personal life private. Over her prolific career, Atwood has earned a reputation for being brilliant but aloof. But her caustic tongue and wicked sense of humour only fuel Atwood's stature as an internationally acclaimed writer.

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Margaret Atwood's creative flair was evident at an early age. Atwood tells CBC's Judy LaMarsh that she began writing at age five but put it aside to pursue painting, opera and even puppetry. Atwood had a happy if somewhat unorthodox childhood. She spent much of it in the Canadian wilderness, accompanying her entomologist father on research trips studying insects. Her unique upbringing meant she didn't attend a full year of school until the eighth grade.

The self-described "word-addict," who devoured everything from Edgar Allan Poe to comic books, excelled in school. In this clip teachers remember Atwood as a bright and creative student. Atwood even mounted an opera about King Coal and his three daughters, Nylon, Orlon and Dacron for a home economics class. Despite her numerous artistic endeavours, Atwood said she knew she wanted to be a writer after composing a poem in her head while walking home. She was 16. 
• Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born in Ottawa on Nov. 18, 1939. She has two siblings; Harold who is two years older and a much younger sister, Ruth, born in 1951.

• Atwood's father Carl Atwood was born in Clyde River, N.S. He was an entomologist who took his family on annual trips to northern Ontario and Quebec. He died in 1993.

• Entomology is a branch of zoology concerned with the study of insects.

• Atwood's mother is also named Margaret which is why the writer is called "Peggy" by her family and friends. Atwood's mother was born in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia.

• When Atwood announced that she wanted to be a writer, everyone thought she was crazy. "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." -- Margaret Atwood in January Magazine, Nov. 2000

• In her high school yearbook, her friends wrote: "Peggy's not-so-secret ambition is to write THE Canadian Novel." -- Rosemary Sullivan's The Red Shoes, 1998

• One of Atwood's ancestors is Mary Webster, who was tried as a witch a decade before the Salem trials of 1692-1693. Webster died in 1696 after being acquitted and miraculously surviving a hanging. Atwood wrote about her in "Half-hanged Mary" in a collection of poems published in 1995.

Medium: Radio
Program: Judy
Broadcast Date: Nov. 4, 1975
Guest(s): Margaret Atwood
Host: Judy LaMarsh
Duration: 17:21

Last updated: November 13, 2014

Page consulted on November 13, 2014

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