Rewind

Margaret Atwood: A Portrait

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. We delve into her past and hear about her childhood surrounded by unusual pets like praying mantises and flying squirrels, the time she...

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.

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 occasion where she rebuked an interviewer for wanting the men and women in her books to just get along rather than feuding all the time.

She is 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 MaddAddam. It's 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 with plenty of stories, wit and some squirming interviewers.

Early Works
Margaret Atwood published her first book of poetry in 1961. It was called Double Persephone. She was only 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."

matwood1s.jpgGraeme Gibson

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. H does sound a little nervous.
Gibson is also a writer and has been Atwood's partner for many years. 

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 1977. Atwood had just released a book of short stories called Dancing Girls.

Her Many Interests
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 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.

Booker Prize
matwood3s.jpgIn 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. It clearly 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. Solomon asked Atwood how it makes her feel when she is criticized.   

Recent Years

Since then Margaret Atwood is as prolific as ever. She has written childrens' books like Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, essays and newspaper articles about everything from libraries to the environment, she delivered the CBC Ideas Massey lecture called Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, more poetry and a trilogy of speculative fiction that imagines a dystopic future. The first two were Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. The final book of that trilogy, MaddAddam, was published in the fall of 2013.


 

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