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Fiction creates new worlds for us to inhabit and understand, whether these are anchored in the past, the future or float freely in the imaginary.
Margaret Atwood’s rich body of work takes us into many different places but the dystopian futures she creates, where the problems we face now come to their logical conclusions, are some of her most compelling work.
As a new generation re-discover the shocking power of The Handmaid’s Tale, it is worth remembering that it is not a story of imagined horrors, but one that is anchored in reality.
With a lack of action on climate change overshadowing our future, and extremist politics destabilising our present, Atwood’s work shows us how to trace the consequences. What can we learn about the present and the future by seeing the world through her eyes?
Photograph by George Whiteside
Margaret Atwood has long been a literary titan, but “current events have polished the oracular sheen of her reputation,” says The New Yorker. With her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale back on the bestsellers lists and its television adaptation awarded eleven Emmy Awards, it seems Atwood’s sharp eye is more necessary, and prescient, than ever.
Two blockbuster television adaptations—first The Handmaid’s Tale, then Alias Grace—have meant that Margaret Atwood’s vision is reaching a wider audience than ever before. The Handmaid’s Tale received 13 Emmy nominations and eight awards—including for Best Drama. Atwood herself received a standing ovation. Alias Grace, now streaming on Netflix, is based on Atwood’s Giller-winning, Booker-shortlisted murder mystery, and is notable for being written, produced, and directed by women.
A winner of many international literary awards, including the prestigious Booker Prize, Arthur C. Clarke Award, Governor General’s Award, the PEN Pinter Prize, the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, she is the author of more than fifty volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction. She is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman, The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood. Her non-fiction book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, part of the Massey Lecture series, was made into a documentary. Atwood’s most recent collection of short stories is Stone Mattress. Her most recent novel is Hag-Seed, a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Atwood’s work has been published in more than 40 languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004, she co-invented the LongPen, a remote signing device that allows someone to write in ink anywhere in the world via tablet PC and the internet. She is a founder of the Writers’ Trust of Canada and a founding trustee of the Griffin Poetry Prize. She is also a popular personality on Twitter, with over a million followers.
Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College.
Photograph by Liam Sharp.