Margaret's moment: Age is an advantage, says Atwood

From new graphic novels to books turned television shows, it all seems to be happening at once for beloved Canadian writer Margaret Atwood.

'Things aligned in a way that had nothing to do with me planning them,' says the author

The Handmaid's Tale TV series resonating today

6 years ago
Duration 4:13
New TV series based on Margaret Atwood's classic dystopian novel finds a new audience in the wake of Donald Trump's presidency and concern over women's rights in the U.S.

It's all coming together at once for Margaret Atwood.

Two of her books are making their television debuts this week — The Handmaid's Tale on Bravo and Hulu and Wandering Wenda, a show based on her alliterative children's books, starts Saturday on CBC. Another show based on an Atwood novel, Alias Grace, is under production and coming to the public broadcaster later this year.

The third volume of her graphic novel series Angel Catbird is due out this summer and MGM has snapped up the television rights for her 2015 book The Heart Goes Last. She's even got cameos in Alias Grace and The Handmaid's Tale, where she slaps star Elisabeth Moss in the face.

It's a career's worth of accomplishments, all happening now at age 77. But the Canadian author said that's mere coincidence.

"Things aligned in a way that had nothing to do with me planning them," she told CBC News. "It is not the life of a typical novelist, except the occasional typical novelist will have something like this occur."

Writer Margaret Atwood turned 77 not too long ago, but is happy to be 'remarkably spry for her age.' Adaptations of several of her books are hitting the small screen. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

And she's not shy about how old she is: she credits her age with what drives her to try out so many different things.

"I didn't grow up in a world where people were telling you not to do these things, because they wouldn't imagine that you would do them anyway," she said.

"When I said, 'I'm going to be a writer,' nobody said, 'You can't be a writer because you're a girl.' They just said, 'You want to be what?' And they would have said that to any gender of person. It was just an unknown thing to be."

Atwood a literary 'titan'

Canadian science-fiction writer Cory Doctorow, who is now based in Burbank, Calif., is "an enormous fan" of Atwood's work, drawing inspiration from it for his own writing. He calls certain literary techniques "Atwoodian."

"If I think about where a story might go, I think to myself, 'What would Peggy do?'"

Doctorow travels the world and has seen Atwood's global influence among fellow writers. He calls her a "titan through the English-speaking world."

Margaret Atwood's Wandering Wenda set for TV

7 years ago
Duration 0:48
The Canadian literary icon's alliterative children's books will come to life in the new CBC-TV series Wandering Wenda.

Doctorow and Atwood have been on a panel together and have had one-on-one conversations and the odd exchange on Twitter. (Atwood is an active Twitter user — she likens it to hosting her own radio show.)

But he said her current fame shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone — nor should the renewed relevance of the fictional dystopian future she wrote about in The Handmaid's Tale in 1985.

"Instead of predicting her future, she predicted her present, which didn't go away," he said.

"The world has caught up with something that somebody has been doing all their life."​

'She has always been herself'

It's a boon for authors when their books get adapted to television, said Doctorow, who used to work at a Toronto science-fiction bookstore (now called Bakka Phoenix Books).

"TV is a gateway drug to reading for a lot of people," he said. "That's true with even bad adaptations … an amazing opportunity for those writers to discover new audiences."

Even though Atwood has long been a household name, interest in her books is surging. All of the Toronto Public Library system's copies are out at the moment. Chris Szego, who manages Bakka Phoenix, said she's seen a spike in sales of Atwood's books.

"Her reach is so wide," she said. "She has always been herself. We talk a lot in Canadian literature circles about the search for authenticity and she always has been."

There's not much sign of slowing down for Atwood as she nears her 80s.

"I'm getting at this point in my life [where I'm] 'remarkably spry for her age.' So I'd rather have that than 'remarkably decrepit for her age,'" she said. "I am the age I am and that gives you a certain advantage too, because I remember a lot of things."

Atwood makes a cameo appearance in The Handmaid's Tale, delivering a slap to the face of lead actress Elisabeth Moss. (George Kraychyk/Hulu)

With files from Eli Glasner and Nigel Hunt