Who is Margaret Atwood?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

Margaret Atwood, born on 18 November 1939, is a famous Canadian writer who has authored many poems, short stories and novels. Atwood is also a feminist, literary critic, and political activist. In addition to receiving national and international awards for her writing, Margaret Atwood is a member of the Order of Canada. This membership is the highest honor that is awarded to Canadian civilians.

Margaret Atwood was born in Ontario, Canada.
Margaret Atwood was born in Ontario, Canada.

Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario to the zoologist Carl Edmund Atwood, and Margaret Dorothy Killiam, who worked as a dietician and nutritionist. She was one of three children. Because of her father’s career, Atwood spent a great deal of her youth in the forests of Northern Quebec. There, Carl Atwood conducted his research in forest etymology. His work also took him on regular trips to major Canadian cities. His regular travel between urban and desolate areas made for an untraditional education for his children. In fact, Margaret did not complete a full year of school until she was in the eighth grade.

A good deal of Atwood’s education was provided by her parents and fueled by her own curiosity. She became a voracious reader early in life and plowed through many classic texts at a young age. She began writing at the age of sixteen, while she was attending Leaside High School in Toronto. After high school, Atwood studied English, Philosophy, and French. Her undergraduate degree was followed by a Master’s Degree at Harvard’s Radcliffe College. Although Atwood spent four additional years pursuing a PhD at Harvard, she has never completed her final degree.

Margaret Atwood’s novels include The Edible Woman (1961), Surfacing, (1972), Lady Oracle (1976), and Bodily Harm (1981). Life Before Man (1979), Cat’s Eye (1988), The Robber Bride (1996), The Blind Assassin (2000), and Oryx and Crake (2003) were all finalists for the Governor General’s Award. The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) won the 1987 Arthur C Clarke Award and the 1985 Governor General’s Award. The Blind Assassin won the prestigious Booker Prize. In addition to publishing novels, Margaret Atwood has published over a dozen poetry collections and numerous collections of short fiction. She has also published a number of essays and has been interviewed by many different literary magazines, journals, and other publications.

Atwood has been married twice. In 1973, she divorced husband of five years Jim Polk. Not longer after, she married again. She and her second husband, Graeme Gibson, had a daughter, Eleanor Jess Atwood Gibson who was born in 1976. Atwood lives in both Toronto and Pelee Island, Ontario.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments


@lonelygod - Margaret Atwood's poetry and her novels are a great read. I think that starting out with The Blind Assassin is a good way to go, as it is structurally amazing and compelling. I really like how she keeps up a subtle relationship with her characters. While some people find the novel too slow, I think it is a read worth setting aside the time for.

Another good choice are Margaret Atwood's Robber Bride or Cat's Eye. Both of these books are real page turners and you'll find yourself caught up in the plot for hours. I suggest heading to her website and browsing through all of her books to find some more you might like.


I actually had the pleasure of meeting Margaret Atwood at a publisher's party a while back. To be honest I actually haven't read anything besides some Margaret Atwood poems I stumbled across.

She was quite pleasant to talk with, and after meeting her I was curious about some of the additional work she has done.

Can anyone recommend a good Margaret Atwood novel that I can read that would really introduce me to her style of writing?

After reading a short Margaret Atwood biography I think she must have written some interesting works in her life. I've heard good things about The Blind Assassin so I wonder if starting with an award-winning book would be a good place to start.


I think Margaret Atwood's dystopian novels can be scary because they look at the ugliness that's just below the surface of modern society. The Handmaid's Tale required a lot of suspension of disbelief (a military coup in modern America?) but otherwise, it's so plausible. People *do* tend to take what they can get and they tend to assume that things will be all right until they are smacked in the face with proof otherwise.

I didn't read Oryx and Crake but I did read the companion novel, The Year of the Flood. There, it's all about taking consumer culture and apathy to its extreme. There, the suspension of disbelief comes in because there are only a handful of people left alive, and they all seem to be people that the main characters know!

Both are dark novels, but neither ends completely without hope. I think of them as sort of women's sci-fi (though that's not to imply that they are chick lit in any way); set in a dystopian future but without warp drives and transporter technology, for instance.

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