It’s that time again! This week’s Fierce Female is getting a lot of much deserved attention right now due to Hulu’s television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, based on her 1985 speculative fiction novel of the same name. You guessed it – this week we’ll be highlighting Margaret Atwood. This Canadian-grown badass is a small but mighty force in literature, education, feminism and environmentalism.
Born in Ottawa Ontario in 1939, Margaret is one of three children to Dorothy and Carl Atwood. Margaret grew up spending a lot of time in the woods due to her father’s work in entomology. She developed a love for reading and writing at a young age and knew by age 16 that she wanted to write professionally. She attended Victoria College at University of Toronto where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English (with Honours) with minors in Philosophy and French. During her studies, she published her first works – which were articles and poems for the school’s literary journal ‘Acta Victoriana’. After this, she went on to earn her Master’s degree from Radcliffe College of Harvard University.
In 1961, her first book of poetry ‘Double Persephone’ was published, winning the E.J. Pratt medal. The rest was history for Margaret, as she went on to write 17 books of poetry, 16 novels, 10 non-fiction books, eight collections of short fiction, eight children’s books and one graphic novel – and counting! She has a manuscript set to be released in 2114 – 100 years after being written – to contribute to the Future Library project (learn more here). She has 24 honorary degrees from various universities and more than 55 awards in Canada and internationally (including the Governor General’s Award in 1966 and 1985, and Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award in 2012).
As if that isn’t accomplishment enough, Margaret is a valiant environmental activist. She is a part of numerous environmental organizations such as BirdLife International and often holds lectures about eco-conservation. For her 70th birthday, she attended a gala at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario because the city has been home to one of Canada’s most ambitious environmental reclamation programs. Many of her novels have been identified as ecocriticism as they focus on humans’ destructive relationship with animals and the environment. In 2013, her book MaddAdam was granted Orion magazine’s award for Best Environmental Book of the Year.
Margaret has frequently rejected the title of a Science Fiction author. When discussing her works such as The Handmaid’s Tale and the MaddAdam trilogy, she instead refers to them as works of Speculative Fiction. She has attributed this to the simple fact that what she writes about could really happen (or has) rather than – in her own words – “talking squids in outer space”. This attribution has proved to be eerily true many times, but most notably following the 2016 presidential election and coinciding legislation (see the similarities here). Sales of The Handmaid’s Tale skyrocketed and a political action group called Handmaid Coalition was formed as a response to repressive political trends towards women, the working class and minority groups.
Given the passionate artist that she is, Margaret has often rallied for higher prioritization of the arts in Canada. She has spoken to many publications about her frustrations with the cuts to public arts and culture. When asked about the importance of culture and the arts in Canadian government, she said this to CBC’s Russ Patrick, “When you look back and think of Egypt, Ancient Egypt, what do you think of? You don’t think of who was the Prime Minister. You think of what they made.” She is more than words on this matter and has taken action – she is one of the founders of the Writers’ Trust of Canada, a non-profit organization that seeks to encourage Canada’s writing community.
Fierce and still fighting, Margaret Atwood is an example of a truly amazing – and Canadian – boss babe!
“I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.” – Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale)
If you’re interested in reading Margaret’s work, here’s a list of my top recommendations:
- The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
- The Edible Woman (1969)
- The MaddAdam Trilogy
- Bluebeard’s Egg (1983)
- The Circle Game (1964)
*Featured Image by Jean Malek (2013)