Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Margaret Eleanor “Peggy” Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario, on November 18, 1939, the second of three children of Margaret Dorothy (Killam) and Carl Edmund Atwood. Her father was an entomologist who conducted research in the bush country of Quebec and Ontario. Therefore, Atwood spent many of her summers at the family cottage exploring the Canadian wilderness until her family would return to Toronto for the school year. This connection to and exploration of the natural world would have a dramatic effect on her later writing.
Atwood’s passion for the creative arts began at a young age. Between the ages of eight and sixteen, she was more interested in painting and designing clothing than in writing. She jokingly calls this time her “dark period” because beyond these years, she was devoted to writing; however, she would go on to illustrate some of her books of poetry and to win respect as a painter.
Atwood wrote for the school paper during her teens at Leaside High School and contributed to the school magazine Clan Call. From 1957 to 1961, she attended the University of Toronto, where she pursued her B.A. in English. During her undergraduate career, she formed a bond with teacher and critic Northrop Frye. Her mentor introduced her to the poetry of William Blake, which would subsequently impact her own poetry. Even the titles of some of her books, such as Double Persephone (1961) and Two-Headed Poems (1978), reveal a double vision of mythic contradictions that stems from the influence of Blake’s writings. Even more important was her friendship with professor and poet Jay Macpherson, whose irony and formal choices are also reflected in Atwood’s work. After graduating with honors from her undergraduate studies and publishing numerous poems in the college’s magazines, Atwood completed her master’s degree in English at Radcliffe College, Harvard...
(The entire section is 823 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Atwood is a multitalented writer with a flare for sardonic humor. In her novels, poetry, and short stories, she makes bold stylistic choices which resonate with the reader. Her concerns with feminist issues, with the struggle between humankind and the natural world, and with Canadian nationalism are inherent in her work. She is a voice of magnitude in her native land and a critic of Canadian matters of trade, culture, and foreign policy. Atwood’s pieces are studied in many secondary schools and universities worldwide. She has won a variety of prestigious awards throughout her career.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on November 18, 1939. She grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. Following graduation from Victoria College, University of Toronto, she attended Radcliffe College at Harvard University on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, receiving a master’s degree in English in 1962. She taught at a number of Canadian universities and traveled extensively. In the early 1990’s Atwood was a lecturer of English at the University of British Columbia at Vancouver. She later settled in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson and their daughter, Jess.
Atwood’s output was steady in fiction and particularly in nonfiction. She made successful forays into the fields of script writing for film and musical theater, and she also produced notable novels. It is her prolific, passionate essay and article writing on a variety of national and international social issues, however, of which human rights is her central concern, that made her a bellwether of Canadian opinion. Her involvement with world political and social issues became evident in her vice leadership of the Writers’ Union of Canada and her presidency of the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, and Novelists (PEN), where she waged a vigorous battle against literary censorship. Her association with Amnesty International prompted an increasingly strong expression of her moral vision.
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on November 18, 1939, the second of Carl Edmund Atwood and Margaret Killam Atwood’s three children. At the age of six months, she was backpacked into the Quebec wilderness, where her father, an entomologist, pursued his special interests in bees, spruce budworms, and forest tent caterpillars. Throughout her childhood, Atwood’s family spent several months of the year in the bush of Quebec and northern Ontario. She did not attend school full time until she was twelve.
Though often interrupted, Atwood’s education seems to have been more than adequate. She was encouraged by her parents to read and write at an early age, and her creative efforts started at five, when she wrote stories, poems, and plays. Her serious composition, however, did not begin until she was sixteen.
In 1961, Atwood earned her B.A. in the English honors program from the University of Toronto, where she studied with poets Jay Macpherson and Margaret Avison. Her M.A. from Radcliffe followed in 1962. Continuing graduate work at Harvard in 1963, Atwood interrupted her studies before reentering the program for two more years in 1965. While she found graduate studies interesting, Atwood directed her energies largely toward her creative efforts. For her, the Ph.D. program was chiefly a means of support while she wrote. Atwood left Harvard without writing her doctoral thesis.
Returning to Canada in 1967, Atwood accepted a position at Sir George Williams University in Montreal. By this time, her poetry was gaining recognition. With the publication of The Edible Woman and the sale of its film rights, Atwood was able to concentrate more fully on writing, though she taught at York University and was writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto. In 1973, Atwood divorced her American husband of five years, James Polk. After the publication of Surfacing, she was able to support herself through her creative efforts. She moved to a farm near Alliston, Ontario, with Canadian novelist Graeme Gibson; the couple’s daughter, Eleanor Jess Atwood Gibson, was born in 1979. In 1980, Atwood and her family returned to Toronto, where Atwood and Gibson became active in the Writers’ Union of Canada, Amnesty International, and the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists (PEN).
Margaret Atwood achieved fame with provocative novels and challenging poems while still a young woman. By age fifty she was acclaimed worldwide for her poetry, fiction, criticism, and essays. Quotable and frequently abrasive, she became a media celebrity as well. Two concerns remained foremost in her work: the self-realization of women and the cultural independence of Canada. To celebrate Canada was also to venerate its environment and respect the habitat of wild animals.
Atwood’s early years provided broad experience of North American life. The daughter of a University of Toronto scientist, she accompanied her father on field trips into the Quebec bush. After undergraduate work in Ontario, she attended Radcliffe on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. Since matrimony was expected of her generation and class, she dutifully married a Harvard student, whom she later divorced. Returning to Canada, she taught at several major universities.
In 1970, Atwood met the Canadian novelist Graeme Gibson, who was to be her permanent companion. Their daughter Jess was born in 1976, and a farm near Alliston, Ontario, became their home. Atwood and Gibson emerged as major figures in the lively Canadian literary scene. They were also untiring advocates of freedom for writers everywhere and spoke for Amnesty International.
Atwood’s critical survey of Canadian literature, Survival, was acknowledged as a major study. She described Canada, despite its richness of ethnic diversity, as a threatened cultural entity, intimidated by its giant neighbor. The one literary genre developed by Canadians had been, predictably, she believed, the realistic animal story. Canadians identified with animal prey, stalked through the bush by the heavily armed hunter from the south, the American.
Despite an anti-Americanism which even some of her compatriots labeled xenophobic, Atwood claimed her largest readership in the United States. Even before the North American women’s movement had identified its chief symbols and themes, The Edible Woman provided a definitive portrait of the female who sees herself as merely another consumer product. Sixteen years later, with The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood published a novel about a horrifying society built on female oppression. Readers valued Atwood for her ability to articulate their deepest apprehensions and entertain them with wittily crafted novels.
Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born into a family that encouraged inquiry and discovery. An important stimulus to her intellectual curiosity was certainly the family’s yearly sojourns in the remote bush of northern Ontario and Quebec, where Atwood’s father, an entomologist, carried out much of his study and research. It is likely that this environment shaped Atwood’s ironic vision and her imagery. Atwood’s writing, especially her poetry and her second novel, Surfacing, are permeated with her intimate knowledge of natural history and with her perception of the casual brutality with which the weak are sacrificed for the survival of the strong.
Studying between 1957 and 1961 for her undergraduate degree in...
(The entire section is 444 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario, on November 18, 1939, the daughter of Carl and Margaret Killam Atwood. In 1945, her father, who was an entomologist specializing in forest insects, moved the family to northern Ontario, the bush country that is featured in many of her works. Though the family returned a year later to Toronto, Atwood in later years would often visit the rural parts of Ontario and Quebec and spend a considerable amount of time at her country place. She attended high school in Toronto, and when she began writing at the age of sixteen, she had the encouragement of her high school teachers and one of her aunts. While attending Victoria College of the University of Toronto, she read Robert Graves’s...
(The entire section is 1096 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
As novelist, poet, literary critic, editor, and spokesperson for women’s rights, Margaret Atwood is an international figure whose ideas and beliefs about consumerism, environmental damage, censorship, militarism, and gender politics pervade her writing. Though most of her work is set in Canada and reflects the survival theme that she claims is distinctly Canadian, her dissection of human relationships transcends national boundaries. She focuses on geographical and emotional landscapes in which her protagonists journey, usually to nature or to the wilderness, in order to shed civilization’s influence, confront themselves, rediscover their true identities, and survive. Atwood’s style, regardless of the genre, is poetic in that...
(The entire section is 148 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Margaret Eleanor Atwood is Canada’s foremost contemporary writer of novels, poetry, and literary criticism. She was born in Ottawa in 1939 to Margaret Killam Atwood and Carl Edmund Atwood, an entomologist. Her father’s university position and scientific research were responsible for his family’s dual life, spent both in Toronto and in the bush country of Quebec. After attending public school in Toronto, she enrolled at Victoria College, University of Toronto, where in 1961 she received her B.A. in English language and literature and was awarded the E. J. Pratt Medal for Double Persephone, a book of poetry.
(The entire section is 765 words.)
IntroductionInternationally acclaimed as a poet, novelist and short story writer, Margaret Atwood has emerged as a major figure in Canadian letters. Using such devices as irony, symbolism, and self-conscious narrators, she explores the relationship between humanity and nature, the dark side of human behavior, and power as it pertains to gender and politics. Popular with both literary scholars and the reading public, Atwood has helped to define and identify the goals of contemporary Canadian literature and has earned a distinguished reputation among feminist writers for her exploration of women's issues. -- Margaret Atwood Criticism
Margaret Atwood is often referred to as Canada’s greatest living writer. She was born on November 18, 1939, in Ottawa, Ontario. She wrote her first story when she was six. Atwood’s father, Carl Edmund Atwood, is an entomologist and her mother, Margaret Dorothy Killam Atwood, is a dietician. In 1945, her family moved to Toronto, where she graduated from high school and afterward attended Victoria College. While there, she studied under Northrop Frye, another famous Canadian author and literary critic, and the poet Jay MacPherson. Upon graduating from college, Atwood won the first of many literary prizes. The E. J. Pratt Medal was awarded to her for her self-published book of poems, Double Persephone. She then went to the United States, where she earned her master’s degree at Harvard.
In 1966, Atwood won another prestigious honor, The Governor General’s Award, for yet another collection of poetry, The Circle Game. In 1967, Atwood married Jim Polk; they divorced in 1977. Atwood’s first novel, The Edible Woman, was published in 1969. By the 1970s, Atwood’s published works secured her a position as one of Canada’s rising stars in both poetry and fiction.
To date, Atwood has written twelve books of poetry, four children’s stories, four nonfiction books, and ten novels. Alias Grace was her ninth novel. Atwood has also written scripts for television and has edited several collections promoting Canadian writers. Many of her works have been translated into foreign languages and published in other countries, where she enjoys a wide readership. Two of her novels, Surfacing and The Handmaid’s Tale, have been made into movies.
Atwood’s ability to win awards began early in her career and has not diminished throughout her career. One of the most coveted was the Booker Prize, which she won for Blind Assassin in 2000.
Besides her writing and editing skills, Atwood has also taught at numerous universities: York University in Toronto, New York University, and the University of Alabama–Tuscaloosa. Atwood is also a rather humorous cartoonist, especially when based on the experience she has gathered while promoting her works on book tours. (See her website.) Atwood is also prone to travel all over the world, giving lectures on literary themes or on her experiences as a writer. She is active in several organizations, such as Amnesty International.
Atwood is married to Graeme Gibson, another Canadian writer. They have three grown children. In 2004, Atwood was living in Toronto.
Margaret Atwood was born November 18, 1939, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada to Carl Edmund (an entomologist) and Margaret Dorothy (Killam) Atwood. As she was growing up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto, she spent a great deal of time in the woods where, like the narrator of Surfacing, she developed an enthusiasm for environmental issues. She began writing when she was six-years-old. By the time she became a teenager, she had written poems, short stories, and cartoons for her high school newspaper, and she had decided that she wanted to devote her life to writing. She earned an undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto in 1961 and her master's degree from Radcliffe College in 1962. After completing her education, she taught at several universities including the University of British Columbia, the Sir George Williams University in Montreal, and York University in Toronto. She and her husband, writer Graeme Gibson, live with their daughter Jess in Toronto.
Atwood has received much acclaim and several awards for her writing, including the Canadian Governor General's Award, Le Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature. She has written more than thirty volumes of poetry, nonfiction and fiction, including children's books and short stories. Her work has been published in more than twenty-five countries. In addition to her best-selling novels and collections of poetry, Atwood gained recognition for Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature, (1972) a ground- breaking critical analysis of Canadian literature and a proposal for Canadian writers to focus on native traditions in their works rather than identifying with Great Britain or the United States. Her works also include the best-selling novels Alias Grace and The Robber Bride.
Margaret E. Atwood, born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1939, spent most of her early years in the wilderness areas of Northern Quebec. She lived with her family in a log cabin that had no electricity, no running water, and no television or radio. It was in this isolated setting that she learned to entertain herself by reading books like those by the Brothers Grimm and Edgar Allan Poe.
Not until she was eleven-years-old, when her family moved to Toronto, did she attend school full-time. In Geraldine Bedell's "Nothing but the Truth Writing between the Lines," Atwood reportedly said that upon her introduction to city life, as contrasted with her own unconventional childhood, all social groups seemed to her "equally bizarre, all artifacts and habits peculiar and strange." This outsider view plus her early and intense fascination with literature may have been responsible for pulling her toward writing, for by the time she graduated from high school, her graduation yearbook declared that Atwood's intentions were to write the great Canadian novel.
In 1961, the same year Atwood graduated from the University of Toronto, she was awarded the E. J. Pratt Medal for her collection of self-published poems titled Double Persephone. Five years later, while she was enrolled as a graduate fellow at Harvard University, she won the Canadian Governor General's Award for another early collection of her poems, The Circle Game.
Atwood described this time of her life in a speech she delivered at Hay on Wye, Wales, in 1995:
After two years at graduate school at the dreaded Harvard University, two broken engagements, a year of living in a tiny rooming-house room and working at a market research company which was more fun than a barrel of drugged monkeys and a tin of orange-flavoured rice pudding, and after the massive rejection of my first novel, and of several other poetry collections as well, I ended up in British Columbia, teaching grammar to Engineering students at eight-thirty in the morning in a Quonset hut. It was all right, as none of us were awake.
Atwood sent her first novel, The Edible Woman, to a publisher who subsequently lost it. Four years later, after Atwood won her awards for poetry, this same publisher took her out to lunch and promised to publish her novel. When Atwood asked him if he had read it, he answered no. As fate would have it, the timing of the book's publication (1969) matched a resurgent interest in women's rights and feminism, thus promoting a concurrent interest in The Edible Woman.
Over the years, Atwood has written, among other things, several books of poetry, novels, short stories, children's stories, a radio play, and a play for television. She is known internationally as a champion of Canadian literature.