81 surprising facts about Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is an iconic Canadian writer. Her birthday is Nov. 18 — celebrate by getting to know her better.
Margaret Atwood (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

CBC Books dug up 81 facts about Margaret Atwood, Canada's literary giant (who is — bonus fact! — actually quite petite) to celebrate her 81st birthday on Nov. 18, 2020.

1. She thought up her first poem while walking across a football field on the way home from high school. 

2. She wrote a libretto called Oratorio for Sasquatch, Man and Two Androids

3. She made a craft beer in honour of her book MaddAddam.

4. Her publisher didn't publish her first novel, The Edible Woman, for five years.

5. She has a special hat made out of newspaper, cardboard and plastic bags. 


6. She's a co-founder of the Writers' Trust of Canada, a trustee of the Griffin Poetry Prize and a co-founder of PEN Canada.

7. She read George Orwell's Animal Farm at the age of nine, thinking it was an innocent kids' book about animals. 

8. She's named after her mother, Margaret Dorothy.

9. She's a Harvard dropout. (If you can call someone who didn't complete their doctorate a dropout.)

10. She made the cover for her 1983 book Murder in the Dark out of a sunblock ad

11. She once did the author Sheila Heti's horoscope in an interview. 

12. She originally named the Crake character in Oryx and CrakeGlenn, for Glenn Gould

13. She contributed a baked lemon custard recipe to Bon Appétit in 2006. According to Epicurious reviews, it's very good.

14. She revealed her intention to write the Great Canadian Novel in her high school yearbook. 

15. She wrote a rock song called "Frankenstein Monster Song." 

16. She's a self-professed bad typer and bad speller. 

17. She doesn't like multitasking

18. She stopped wearing her trademark curls pinned back in the early 1970s, at the urging of the British film and theatre director Tony Richardson. 

19. As a child, she loved Tinkertoys.¹

20. In the 1970s, she was an underground comics artist. Under the pseudonym Bart Gerrard, she drew a comic strip for This Magazine called "Kanadian Kulture Komics." 

Margaret Atwood shows off her illustrations to CBC host Peter Gzowski. (CBC archives)

21. She has no particular writing routine, nor does she write every day. 

22. She's the only author to have her books featured on CBC's Canada Reads three times.

23. She was a home economics major in high school, and produced a home ec–themed opera in 1956 about three fabrics: Orlon, Nylon and Dacron. 

24. She reads The Onion

25. Her favourite alcoholic beverage is single-malt scotch, straight up. 

26. She's had the same agent since 1971.

27. She once got mugged by two kids with a big knife. She gave them her money, but not her cards.

28. She only started full-time school at eight. 

29. While at university, she read her poems in a coffee shop called The Bohemian Embassy, where Lorne Michaels and Gordon Lightfoot also performed. 

30. She once gave her longtime partner, Graeme Gibson, a T-shirt that read "Every woman writer should be married to Graeme Gibson." 

Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson (

31. She is a very good recorder player. (UPDATE: Margaret Atwood claims she is, in fact, a "lousy" recorder player.)

32. She has the same birthday as Eleanor Wachtel, the host of CBC Radio's Writers & Company

33. In university, she had a job running the nature program at a Jewish summer camp named White Pine. 

34. She was in the Brownies as a child. 

35. She has an irregular heartbeat, inherited from her father. 

Margaret Atwood and her father, Carl Edmund Atwood (

36. In high school, she sang in a small choir at Rotary luncheons. 

37. She periodically knits. She knitted a rabbit for a grandchild that ended up looking more like a rat. 

38. Her roommates at Harvard burned her Hush Puppies shoes. 

39. She's an adept cake decorator.

40. She offered up tips on being an effective goalie on CBC Television's The Rick Mercer Report:

41. She always begins her writing with a pen or pencil and paper

42. She's a fan of the late Jehane Benoît, the Canadian cooking icon. 

43. She's a notorious procrastinator.

44. She sang and danced to Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, The Platters and The Andrews Sisters in her younger years. 

45. She has no problem with eating bugs, especially giant locusts.

46. She wrote a poem in the 1960s about the Boston strangler: 

47. Her first book signing (for The Edible Woman) was in the Hudson's Bay store in Edmonton, in the men's sock and underwear department. 

48. She once read aloud a recipe for eating a grapefruit: 

49. In response to the author Mary McCarthy's unfavourable review of The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood said, "I was brought up never to say rude things about older people, and I'm not going to begin now." 

50. She called the poet Irving Layton "a great big frangipani." 

51. According to her, the "1960s" really started in 1965.

52. She has auctioned off character names for charity. 

53. She once dreamt that she had written an opera for Susanna Moodie. 

54. In 2014, Atwood marked her 10th consecutive year of celebrating her birthday at the annual Margaret Atwood Birthday Party in Sudbury, Ontario. 

55. She's the inventor of the LongPen, an electronic pen that lets her sign books remotely. 

56. She has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.

57. She once carved a jack-o-lantern out of a turnip.

58. She saw her first balloon on her sixth birthday. It had been saved since before the Second World War and popped as soon as it was blown up. 

59. She read scandalous books like Peyton Place while babysitting. 

60. She once cheekily told an interviewer that Canada's national anthem was the song "Canada's Really Big" by the Arrogant Worms. 

61. Her literary office is called O.W. Toad (an anagram of Atwood). 

62. When she was studying for her grade 13 exams, she kept a jar of Noxzema skin cream in the freezer and rubbed it all over her face when she felt her concentration waning. 

63. She was raised a "strict agnostic." 

64. She has two desks in her office: one with Internet and one without.

65. She has three pairs of shoes at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, including these: 

(Bata Shoe Museum)

66. She vocally opposed the installation of an artificial turf field at her alma mater, the University of Toronto. 

67. She once tossed a haggis alongside CBC's The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers.

68. As a child, she found Snow White traumatizing.

69. While in graduate school at Harvard, she and her other female classmates were expected to serve tea and cookies to their male classmates in the middle of a two-hour seminar. 

70. She is the author of The CanLit Foodbook, and did all the illustrations herself. 

71. She gave herself blisters trying to teach herself to touch-type. 

72. She wrote her first novel at the age of seven, about an ant. 

73. She asked this question on Twitter:

74. Her Grade 12 English teacher, Miss Bessie Billings, had this to say about one of her early poems: "I can't understand a word of this, dear, so it must be good." 

75. She will have a new piece of writing published (posthumously, we're assuming) in 2114. 

76. She consented to this Hollywood-style makeover in 1981. 


77. She published a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, called The Testaments, in 2019.

78. The Testaments co-won the 2019 Booker Prize, making Atwood the oldest ever recipient of the award.

79. The Testaments also broke Canadian sales records when it was published, selling more print copies in the first week than any other Canadian book since BookNet Canada began tracking sales data in 2005.

80. It sold so many copies it was the #1 bestselling Canadian book of 2019.

81. The Testaments was also the most borrowed library book in Canada in 2020.

¹  In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination



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