Margaret Atwood Biography

Novelist, poet, short story writer, critic, teacher, and feminist Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born on November 18, 1939. Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Atwood was the second of three children to Carl Edmond and Margaret Dorothy Killam Atwood. She went on to marry writer, Graeme Gibson, and give birth to a daughter named Jess. Atwood’s religion was that Immanent Transcendentalist.

During her childhood, she spent her summers in Northern Quebec while her father fulfilled aspirations of being a forest entomologist. Her time spent in Northern Quebec during her youth, was a significant influence on the novel Surfacing which was published in 1972. Upon coming out of what Atwood often refers to a her “dark period”, which took place from ages eight to sixteen, she began writing.

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In high school, her writing began to flourish and she began submitting her works to her high school newspaper. As she continued to contribute poetry, short stories, and cartoons to her high school’s paper, Canadian literary critic and historian Northrop Frye (1912-1991) influenced her writing. Frye also introduced her to the poetry of William Blake (1757-1827) which further Atwood received her Bachelor’s degree from University of Toronto, her Master’s from Radcliff College of Harvard University, and went into graduate study at Harvard University. After completing various studies, Atwood went on to spend a considerable amount of time teaching and lecturing. She taught English at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (1964-65), Victorian and American Literature at Sir George Williams in Montreal (1967-68), Creative Writing at the University of Alberta, English at New York University in New York (1986).

She worked as a writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto in Toronto (1972-73), the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa (1985), and Macquarie University in North Ryde, Australia (1987). Atwood published her first volume of poetry, Double Persephone, in 1961. Her second volume of poetry, The Circle Game, won the 1967 Governor General’s Award, Canada’s highest literary honor.

Although Atwood was a feminist, in her book The Animals In That Country “there is nothing “feminine” about the poems. (Duyn 19). The publishing of her book The Handmaid’s Tale (1986) also won her the Governor General’s Award. The Handmaid’s Tale was filmed by the Cinecom Entertainment Group in 1990. Within six months of moving to Vancouver to teach at the University of British Columbia, she completed her first novel The Edible Woman in 1964, but was not published until 1969.

According to critic Millicent Bell, the book was “a work of feminist, black humor” (Bell 19). Bell also notes that Atwood’s “imagination is too wacky and sinister for situation comedy” (Bell 19) in her review of The Edible Woman. The publication of her poetry collection Power Politics greatly increases her publicity. Margaret Eleanor Atwood has become a prominent figure in the contemporary literary realm. And as Linda Hutcheon has said “The many reviews and articles she has written… have contributed to making Atwood a significant.

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