Update: Strange as it is to post an update before you publish the actual post, this post does call for an update. See, I was writing this post this morning (Saturday morning, as I am also writing this update on Saturday the 14th) while cruising around the internet for information about Margaret Atwood. I saw her quote about Lady Macbeths (which is down below, in the body of the post), and decided to ask Twitter and Facebook followers about their favorite villainness.
I ended up quoting the Lady Macbeth line to someone who responded, which must have triggered some sort of search thing–or maybe I mentioned her, I can’t remember which–because this happened:
Just Followed @thebooksluts. (Girls just want to read fun?)
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) January 14, 2012
And I nearly wet myself.
Of course, this created a few
hours moments of utter panic, since, when I started writing this post, I never dreamed that it would show up in the Margaret Atwood’s Twitter feed. Knowing there’s a chance that you might be looking at this post now, Ms. Atwood, please know that I did my best to get it right. – Susie
A word after a word
after a word is power.
– Margaret Atwood, “Spelling”
Born: November 18, 1939; Canadian
Notable Works: The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Blind Assassin, Cat’s Eye, The Year of the Flood, The Robber Bride, also everything she’s ever written
Genre: Speculative fiction; literary fiction; sciency fiction (but not science fiction)
Margaret Atwood is a writer after my own heart. She’s wry, she’s prolific, she’s active on the internet. Her writing is deeply entwined with the movement of progressive women, she’s adamantly anti-censorship. Her writing goes where women sometimes fear to tread (or feared, at least, when her earlier books were published); her work includes darker dystopian themes and, although she says she doesn’t write science fiction (she prefers the term “speculative fiction”), she does write in the family of science and fantasy fiction genres that is, even now, still largely a boys’ club. She uses the word “amalgamated.” I adore Margaret Atwood.
Atwood started writing at the age of five or six, and knew she wanted to be a professional writer by the time she was sixteen. She announced this at lunch one day in the school cafeteria; her friends thought she had gone “completely berzerk.” At the time, writers were “usually dead English people. A few dead American people. So as far as anybody knew, there only was one Canadian writer and that was Stephen Leacock,” so it was considered an odd course to determine for oneself if you lived in Canada. Once she decided she was going to be a writer, however, Atwood dug in her heels and made it happen–despite the lack of writers’ resources available to her, not to mention almost nonexistent contemporary role models. She wrote for sixteen years before becoming a published author, all the while pursuing a graduate degree at Harvard/Radcliffe, taking day jobs, cashier jobs, and eventually teaching jobs to pay the bills.
“When I started in Canada it was very hard to be a writer. Very few Canadian writers were published, even in Canada. If you wrote a novel you were told that there weren’t enough readers in Canada, you must get a publisher in Britain, or the US. Then – Catch 22 – you were told your work was too Canadian.” – Margaret Atwood, in an interview for The Guardian
“My mother said: If you want to be a writer, maybe you should learn to spell. [Laughs] And I said: Others will do that for me. And they do. Either it’s the real person editor, or it’s the little man hiding in the computer who comes out and waves his hands at you and underlines your things with squiggly lines.” – Margaret Atwood, in an interview for January Magazine
One of Atwood’s earliest literary influences was a childhood gift–a complete edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. She recalls that her sister was frightened of the stories, but Atwood loved them; the stories intrigued her, as she recounted to Joyce Carol Oates in 1978 (link requires login): “the other interesting thing about these stories is that, unlike the heroines of the more conventional and redone stories, such as ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ the heroines of these stories show considerable wit and resourcefulness and usually win, not just by being pretty [or] virtuous, but by using their brains.” This influence shows up time and again in Atwood’s work now, where brainy and resourceful women often reign supreme.
Atwood skirts around the idea that she is a feminist writer, however. She certainly is a feminist, no doubt about that–but, she said, she falls between extremes, and wouldn’t call herself a feminist novelist. She also brushes off suggestions by some that her novels, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, are feminist tracts in disguise. “Novels are not slogans. If I wanted to say just one thing,” she said in an interview, “I would hire a billboard.”
“Where have all the Lady Macbeths gone? Gone to Ophelias, every one, leaving the devilish tour-de-force parts to be played by bass-baritones.” – Margaret Atwood
(Have I mentioned how oh-so-quotable she is? I thought about doing this whole post in just quotes.)
Robert McCrum from The Guardian uncovered yet another of Atwood’s influences, and pinned down one of the main reasons that Margaret Atwood is so damned fascinating: “Is [Atwood], I wondered, not something of a Victorian in her prodigious output and range of interests? ‘Oh yes,’ she replies unfazed. ‘Victorian literature was my subject at Harvard.’ Now, finally, we are beginning to approach the origins of her best work.” From rare birds, to comic books, to science, to economics, to literature, to Twitter, keeping up with Margaret Atwood requires a little bit of curiosity about everything and a willingness to be educated as you go. One of her current passions, which shows up in her writing and in interviews, is her concern about humanity’s unsustainable mode of living. Although these themes become foreboding in her novels, Atwood also maintains that all is not lost, referring to our problems as a “super-challenge.” Much like her foray into Twitter, when posed with a challenge, Atwood always seems to greet it with nothing short of fearlessness and relentless curiosity. Oh, and brilliance.
Margaret Atwood has had an overwhelmingly prolific career. Besides writing novels, Atwood is also a poet; she has published more than twenty volumes of poetry (some of which are anthologies of previous volumes). Atwood has also written children’s books, non-fiction books, collections of short fiction, and converted The Penelopiad, one of her novels, into a play. She’s written television scripts, book reviews, articles, and has done a few recordings. She has her own bird-friendly coffee blend. She even has a CafePress shop, where you can buy shirts she designed. At 72, she doesn’t show any signs that she’s ready to retire–except when it comes to giving book blurbs, a subject on which she has composed a poem to explain her policy. I’m looking forward to see what work she has on the horizon. It could literally be anything that she could imagine.