Margaret Atwood | Poetry Foundation (2022)

Regarded as one of Canada’s finest living writers, Margaret Atwood is a poet, novelist, story writer, essayist, and environmental activist. Her books have received critical acclaim in the United States, Europe, and her native Canada, and she has received numerous literary awards, including the Booker Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Governor General’s Award, twice. Atwood’s critical popularity is matched by her popularity with readers; her books are regularly bestsellers and her novels have been adapted into popular movies and television series.

Atwood was born in Ottawa and earned her BA from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and MA from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She first came to public attention as a poet in the 1960s with her collections Double Persephone (1961), winner of the E.J. Pratt Medal, and The Circle Game (1964), winner of a Governor General’s award. These two books marked out terrain her subsequent poetry has explored. Double Persephone dramatizes the contrasts between life and art, as well as natural and human creations. The Circle Game takes this opposition further, setting such human constructs as games, literature, and love against the instability of nature. Sherrill Grace, writing in Violent Duality: A Study of Margaret Atwood, identified the central tension in all of Atwood’s work as “the pull towards art on one hand and towards life on the other.” Atwood “is constantly aware of opposites—self/other, subject/object, male/female, nature/man—and of the need to accept and work within them,” Grace explained. Linda W. Wagner, writing in The Art of Margaret Atwood: Essays in Criticism, also saw the dualistic nature of Atwood’s poetry, asserting that “duality [is] presented as separation” in her work. This separation leads her characters to be isolated from one another and from the natural world, resulting in their inability to communicate, to break free of exploitative social relationships, or to understand their place in the natural order. “In her early poetry,” Gloria Onley wrote in the West Coast Review, Atwood “is acutely aware of the problem of alienation, the need for real human communication and the establishment of genuine human community—real as opposed to mechanical or manipulative; genuine as opposed to the counterfeit community of the body politic.”

(Video) Margaret Atwood reads "Marrying the Hangman," 1978 in San Francisco — The Poetry Center

Suffering is common for the female characters in Atwood’s poems, although they are never passive victims. Atwood’s poems, West Coast Review contributor Onley maintained, concern “modern woman’s anguish at finding herself isolated and exploited (although also exploiting) by the imposition of a sex role power structure.” Atwood explained to Judy Klemesrud in the New York Times that her suffering characters come from real life: “My women suffer because most of the women I talk to seem to have suffered.” Although she became a favorite of feminists, Atwood’s popularity in the feminist community was unsought. “I began as a profoundly apolitical writer,” she told Lindsy Van Gelder of Ms., “but then I began to do what all novelists and some poets do: I began to describe the world around me.”

Atwood’s 1995 book of poetry, Morning in the Burned House, “reflects a period in Atwood’s life when time seems to be running out,” observed John Bemrose in Maclean’s. Noting that many of the poems address grief and loss, particularly in relationship to her father’s death and a realization of her own mortality, Bemrose added that the book “moves even more deeply into survival territory.” Bemrose further suggested that in this book, Atwood allows the readers greater latitude in interpretation than in her earlier verse: “Atwood uses grief … to break away from that airless poetry and into a new freedom.” A selection of Atwood’s poems was released as Eating Fire: Selected Poems 1965-1995 in 1998. Showing the arc of Atwood’s poetics, the volume was praised by Scotland on Sunday for its “lean, symbolic, thoroughly Atwoodesque prose honed into elegant columns.” Atwood’s 2007 collection, The Door, was her first new volume of poems in a decade. Reviewing the book for the Guardian, the noted literary critic Jay Parini maintained that Atwood’s “northern” poetic climate is fully on view, “full of wintry scenes, harsh autumnal rain, splintered lives, and awkward relationships. Against this landscape, she draws figures of herself.” Parini found Atwood using irony, the conventions of confessional verse, political attitudes and gestures, as well as moments of ars poetica throughout the collection. “There is a pleasing consistency in these poems,” he wrote “which are always written in a fluent free verse, in robust, clear language. Atwood’s wit and humour are pervasive, and few of the poems end without an ironic twang.”

(Video) Author Margaret Atwood on Writing The Handmaid’s Tale | The Embrace Ambition Summit

Atwood’s interest in female experience also emerges clearly in her novels, particularly in The Edible Woman (1969), Surfacing (1972), Life before Man (1979), Bodily Harm (1981), and The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). Even later novels such as The Robber Bride (1993) and Alias Grace (1996) feature female characters defined by their intelligence and complexity. By far Atwood’s most famous early novel, The Handmaid’s Tale also presages her later trilogy of scientific dystopia and environmental disaster Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009), and MaddAddam (2013). Rather than “science fiction,” Atwood uses the term “speculative fiction” to describe her project in these novels. The Handmaid’s Tale is dominated by an unforgiving view of patriarchy and its legacies. As Barbara Holliday wrote in the Detroit Free Press, Atwood “has been concerned in her fiction with the painful psychic warfare between men and women. In The Handmaid’s Tale … she casts subtlety aside, exposing woman’s primal fear of being used and helpless.” Atwood, however, believes that her vision is not far from reality. Speaking to Battiata, Atwood noted that “The Handmaid’s Tale does not depend upon hypothetical scenarios, omens, or straws in the wind, but upon documented occurrences and public pronouncements; all matters of record.”

(Video) Margaret Atwood - 2022 Hitchens Prize

Atwood’s next few books deal less with speculative worlds and more with history, literary convention, and narrative hi-jinx. In The Robber Bride, Atwood again explores women’s issues and feminist concerns, this time concentrating on women’s relationships with each other—both positive and negative. Inspired by the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale “The Robber Bridegroom,” the novel chronicles the relationships of college friends Tony, Charis, and Roz with their backstabbing classmate Zenia. Lorrie Moore, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called The Robber Bride “Atwood’s funniest and most companionable book in years,” adding that its author “retains her gift for observing, in poetry, the minutiae specific to the physical and emotional lives of her characters.” Alias Grace represents Atwood’s first venture into historical fiction, but the book has much in common with her other works in its contemplation of “the shifting notions of women’s moral nature” and “the exercise of power between men and women,” wrote Maclean’s contributor Diane Turbide. Several reviewers found Grace, a woman accused of murdering her employer and his wife but who claims amnesia, a complicated and compelling character. Turbide added that Grace is more than an intriguing character: she is also “the lens through which Victorian hypocrisies are mercilessly exposed.”

(Video) Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing | Official Trailer | MasterClass

Atwood continues to investigate the conventions and expectations of genre literature in The Blind Assassin (2000), which won the prestigious Booker Prize. The novel involves multiple story lines; interspersed with these narrative threads are sections devoted to one character’s novel, The Blind Assassin, published posthumously. Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times called The Blind Assassin an “absorbing new novel” that “showcases Ms. Atwood’s narrative powers and her ardent love of the Gothic.” Atwood’s next novels, however, return to the speculative terrain she mapped out in The Handmaid’s Tale. Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam form a trilogy about a world of fundamental environmental catastrophe. Reviewing Oryx and Crake, Kakutani in the New York Times wrote, “once again she conjures up a dystopia, where trends that started way back in the twentieth century have metastasized into deeply sinister phenomena.” Science contributor Susan M. Squier wrote that “Atwood imagines a drastic revision of the human species that will purge humankind of all of our negative traits.” Squier went on to note that “in Oryx and Crake readers will find a powerful meditation on how education that separates scientific and aesthetic ways of knowing produces ignorance and a wounded world.” Atwood’s most recent novels include The Heart Goes Last (2015), which she began in serial installments online, Hag-Seed (2016), a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the graphic novel Angel Catbird (2016).

Atwood is known for her strong support of causes: feminism, environmentalism, social justice. In Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972), Atwood discerns a uniquely Canadian literature, distinct from its American and British counterparts. Canadian literature, she argues, is primarily concerned with victims and with the victim’s ability to survive unforgiving circumstances. In the way other countries or cultures focus around a unifying symbol—America’s frontier, England’s island—Canada and Canadian literature orientate around survival. Several critics find that Atwood’s own work exemplifies this primary theme of Canadian literature. Her examination of destructive gender roles and her nationalistic concern over the subordinate role Canada plays to the United States are variations on the victor/victim theme. Atwood believes a writer must consciously work within his or her nation’s literary tradition, and her own work closely parallels the themes she sees as common to the Canadian literary tradition.

(Video) Talking Volumes: Margaret Atwood reads "Night Poem"

Atwood has also continued to write about writing. Her lectures Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing were published under the same title in 2002. She has also released several essay collections, including Moving Targets: Writing with Intent, 1982-2004 (2004) and Curious Pursuits: Occasional Writing, 1970-2005 (2005). In 2008 she published the collection Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. Examining the peculiar financial straits of the 21st century, Atwood also traces the historical precedents for lending, borrowing, and debt. Her collection In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (2011) explores the resources of science fiction as speculative thought. According to Nick Owchar in the Los Angeles Times, “Atwood explains how the genre fits into a continuum dating to the world’s oldest myths and continuing today with authors who use the genre to examine social ills, not run away from them.”

Although she has been labeled a Canadian nationalist, a feminist, a gothic and science fiction writer, given the range and volume of her work, Atwood both incorporates and transcends all of these categories.

(Video) Should We Still Be Reading Margaret Atwood? | CanLit, White Feminism, and Settler Colonialism


What is Margaret Atwood's most famous poem? ›

One of her most famous poems is 'In The Secular Night': As the author of more than 35 volumes of poetry, children's literature, fiction and non-fiction works her books have been published in more than 40 languages.

What are Margaret Atwood's poems about? ›

Margaret Atwood

What is the central idea of this is a photograph of me? ›

In her mysterious poem “This is a Photograph of Me,” Atwood utilizes several aspects of nature observed in a photograph to symbolize the dominance of men over women in our oppressive society.

What is Margaret Atwood best known for? ›

Margaret Atwood is best known for The Handmaid's Tale (1985), a dystopian novel set in New England in the near future, which posits a Christian fundamentalist theocratic regime in the former U.S. that arose as a response to a fertility crisis.

What made Margaret Atwood write The Handmaid's Tale? ›

When Margaret Atwood was writing the book, she took inspiration from, among other things, the rise of the Christian right in America during the 1970s and '80s, the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 and, much less well-known, a woman in 17th century New England named Mary Webster, who was one of the people she ...

What is the theme of Margaret Atwood? ›

Atwood's works encompass a variety of themes including gender and identity, religion and myth, the power of language, climate change, and "power politics". Many of her poems are inspired by myths and fairy tales which interested her from a very early age.

Is Atwood a feminist? ›

Margaret Atwood has long been hailed as a feminist icon. The Handmaid's Tale and the sequel, The Testaments, continue to hold up a mirror to the state of women's rights around the world.

What was the Handmaid's Tale based on? ›

Hulu's series "The Handmaid's Tale" is based on Margaret Atwood's dystopian book by the same name. Atwood was inspired by biblical passages, Salem witch trials, and American politics in the 1980s. There seem to be references to historical events, like aristocrats giving birth in public spaces.

What is the best Margaret Atwood book? ›

Margaret Atwood

What is the irony in the poem a photograph? ›

What is the irony in the poem a photograph? The photograph is ironically a dysphonic one. The state of mother being happy in the photograph and the happiness of the poet to see her mother in happy state both are connected to a dark side.

What is the main idea of photograph? ›

Central Idea of the Poem

Shirley Toulson's poem 'A Photograph' is a loving tribute to her mother. The poem reflects the passage of time and its three stages. In the first stage, the photograph shows his mother enjoying a holiday on a beach along with her two girl cousins.

What is the summary of a photograph? ›

Summary of a Photograph

A Photograph Summary compares the internal state of nature and the momentary state of humans. In the poem, poetess describes a photograph of her mothers' childhood. In the photograph of time when she went for a sea holiday with her two girl cousins.

Is Margaret Atwood vegan? ›

No, Margaret Atwood is not vegan. She is a vegetarian, which means she still consumes dairy and egg products.

What does Atwood mean? ›

The Atwood name has descended through the generations from the ancient Anglo-Saxon culture. Their name comes from having lived in the county of Salop where they were found since the early Middle Ages. Their name means at the wood, from atte wood. The original bearer, therefore, would have lived at the edge of a wood.

Did handmaid's really exist? ›

The Handmaid's Tale is NOT based on a true story. The drama is science fiction, set in a dystopian future where a totalitarian regime has overthrown the US government and created the Republic of Gilead. But the show, based on Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel of the same name, is inspired by religious and political history.

Why is The Handmaid's Tale controversial? ›

"The Handmaid's Tale" was among titles targeted for sexual or health-related content, while a "disproportionate" number of bans focused on stories relating to LGBTQ+ people and people of color, according to PEN America.

Where was the Handmaid's Tale banned? ›

“The Handmaid's Tale has been banned many times—sometimes by whole countries, such as Portugal and Spain in the days of Salazar and the Francoists, sometimes by school boards, sometimes by libraries,” the Canadian author said in a statement.

Did Margaret Atwood win Nobel Prize? ›

The Canadian writer and teacher has earned the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award, officials of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize officials announced Monday.

Who wrote the handmaids tale? ›

Margaret Atwood, author of the dystopian novel “The Handmaid's Tale,” has shared her thoughts on the dissolution of Roe v. Wade with four small words and a coffee cup.

What happens when Margaret Atwood summary? ›

In When it Happens by Margaret Atwood we have the theme of fear, isolation, connection, control, conflict and struggle. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Atwood may be exploring the theme of fear. Mrs Burridge appears to live her life in fear.

What are Margaret Atwood's core beliefs about feminism? ›

Margaret Atwood has argued feminism is not defined as the assumption women are always right regardless of the context. The Canadian novelist, who eschews the feminist label for own books, said feminism has dissolved into a catch-all term used to denote myriad definitions.

What does Atwood say about feminism? ›

'Feminist' is now one of the all-purpose words,” Atwood said. “It can really mean anything from people who think men should be pushed off cliffs to people who think it's OK for women to read and write ... So what do you mean?”

What wave of feminism is Margaret Atwood? ›

Margaret Atwood has worked in 1960s and 1970s. Atwood's works are full of the second wave movement's signs. Some of the features of the second phase consist of forming women groups- requisiteness of abortion right and rejecting marriage.

What caused infertility in Gilead? ›

But what's the cause? In The Handmaid's Tale, infertility is linked to another one of Gilead's prominent problems: pollution. As revealed in the season 1 episode "A Woman's Place," inorganic farming and radioactivity are to blame for declining fertility.

What religion is Gilead based on? ›

Gilead is a strict, totalitarian regime that bases its laws and customs around only a very literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Christian Bible.

Are there handmaids in the Bible? ›

Depictions in Abrahamic texts

In the King James translation of the Hebrew Bible, the term handmaid is applied to a female servant who serves her mistress, as in the case of Hagar being described as Sarai's handmaid, Zilpah being Leah's handmaid and Bilhah as Rachel's handmaid.

Is Margaret Atwood easy read? ›

Atwood's (The Handmaid's Tale; Oryx and Crake) fiction is often complex and challenging to read, but in her first foray into the world of graphic novels, her wickedly funny sensibility as a poet shines through.

Where should I start with Margaret Atwood? ›

For an Atwood newbie: The Handmaid's Tale (1985)

Truly, it's the only place to start, even if it's not totally emblematic of the rest of her books (and nothing really is, so might as well start with a classic).

Where should I start with Margaret Atwood books? ›

Here are some suggestions where to start.
  • The Handmaid's Tale (1985) ...
  • The Heart Goes Last (2015) ...
  • The Robber Bride (1993) ...
  • Cat's Eye (1988) ...
  • Oryx & Crake (2003)
7 Oct 2015

What is the moral of the poem a photograph? ›

The theme of the poem Photograph is loss, memory and the transience of life. It explores how people may die but in a strange way they continue to live on in the form of memories. These memories are not just restricted to one's head but can also attain a tangible form such as photographs.

What are the three phases of the poem photograph? ›

1 Answer
  • The first phrase is the one in which the poet's mother was young and had a sweet face. ...
  • The second phase is the one in which poet's mother is grown up and is seeing her old photograph and laughing. ...
  • The third phase is the current one in which the poet's mother is dead and the poet is missing her laugh.
25 Jan 2021

Why did the mother laugh at the snapshot? ›

Solution : The poet's mother laughed at the happy memories of the moments that had passed long back. She looked back to her childhood with nostalgia and remembered the innocent joys of her childhood days.

What is the central idea? ›

What is central idea? CENTRAL IDEA refers to what the text is mainly about. Central idea is NOT the topic of the text. Central idea can most often be stated in one sentence.

Who clicked the three girl in the cardboard? ›

Answer: The uncle clicked the three girls in the cardboard.

Why does the poet feel emotional on seeing the photograph? ›

The poet feels emotional because the photograph is of her mother's childhood. It had been captured by her mother's uncle when she along with her cousins had gone to the beach to have fun. The photograph brings tears to her eyes because now her mother is no more in this world. This thought evokes pangs in her heart.

What type of poem is a photograph? ›

A Photograph by Shirley Toulson is a dysphoric poem which captures the three different moods of the poet in three different stanzas of the poem. The poem describes three stages in the passage of time.

What is the tone of the poem a photograph? ›

Solution : The tone of the poem is that of sadness. Shirley Toulson looks at an old photograph of her mother and is sadly reminded of her mother who is no more. She mentions about the death of her mother indirectly only but this photograph has made her speechless and silent.

What is the mood of the poet in a photograph? ›

The poet is sad and reminiscences about her mother. The poet takes a glance at her mother's photograph notices how her mother's face had undergone a transformation from a carefree girl to a responsible woman. Even though its been years since she died, the poet can still recall her mother's laughter.

Who is Margaret Atwood's husband? ›

When was Handmaid's Tale written? ›

The Handmaid's Tale was written in 1985, but it's as popular as ever, thanks to a TV adaptation and the current political climate.

How many books has Margaret Atwood written? ›

Margaret Atwood

What is Margaret Atwood's most famous poem? ›

One of her most famous poems is 'In The Secular Night': As the author of more than 35 volumes of poetry, children's literature, fiction and non-fiction works her books have been published in more than 40 languages.

Why did Margaret Atwood write the penelopiad? ›

Atwood believed the roles of Penelope and her maids during Odysseus' absence had been a largely neglected scholarly topic and that she could help address it with this project.

When did Margaret Atwood become popular? ›

By the time she published the best-selling novel “The Handmaid's Tale” in 1985, which continues to resonate decades later, she had established herself as one of North America's most prominent and interesting writers.

How do I use my Atwood machine? ›

How to Analyze an Atwood's Machine - YouTube

What is Atwood machine and its one uses? ›

The Atwood machine (or Atwood's machine) was invented in 1784 by the English mathematician George Atwood as a laboratory experiment to verify the mechanical laws of motion with constant acceleration. Atwood's machine is a common classroom demonstration used to illustrate principles of classical mechanics.

What is the best Margaret Atwood book? ›

Margaret Atwood

Who is the most famous Canadian poet? ›

Margaret Atwood is the most famous Canadian poet. Her poems are often included in poetry anthologies and educational syllabuses across the world.

What is the poem the city planners about? ›

Order, Control, and Madness

“The City Planners” critiques humanity's obsession with controlling its environment. The poem's speaker finds suburbia's monotonous perfection—its orderly houses, manicured lawns, and eerie silence—stifling and strange.

Why is the child sad in Atwood's poem a sad child? ›

The child in the poem is sad because of the embarrassment at a lawn party. She went there to have fun. However, things didn't go well.

Is Margaret Atwood easy read? ›

Atwood's (The Handmaid's Tale; Oryx and Crake) fiction is often complex and challenging to read, but in her first foray into the world of graphic novels, her wickedly funny sensibility as a poet shines through.

Where should I start with Margaret Atwood? ›

For an Atwood newbie: The Handmaid's Tale (1985)

Truly, it's the only place to start, even if it's not totally emblematic of the rest of her books (and nothing really is, so might as well start with a classic).

Where should I start with Margaret Atwood books? ›

Here are some suggestions where to start.
  • The Handmaid's Tale (1985) ...
  • The Heart Goes Last (2015) ...
  • The Robber Bride (1993) ...
  • Cat's Eye (1988) ...
  • Oryx & Crake (2003)
7 Oct 2015

Who is Canada's national poet? ›

The Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate (French: Poète officiel du Parlement du Canada) is the national poet laureate of Canada. The current poet laureate is Louise Bernice Halfe. The position is an office of the Library of Parliament.

Who is the most famous American poet? ›

Walt Whitman is considered one of America's most influential poets. His verse collection, Leaves of Grass, is a landmark in the history of American literature. Whitman was part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, and his work often focuses on the nature of the American experience and its democracy.

Who is first Canadian poet? ›

Oliver Goldsmith (1794–1861) was a Canadian poet born in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. In 1822 he wrote some verses for an amateur theatre in Halifax. He is best known for The Rising Village, which appeared in 1825.
Oliver Goldsmith (Canadian poet)
Oliver Goldsmith
2 more rows

How does Atwood make the city planners so disturbing? ›

Just the sight of the ordered houses, roofs, and driveways is enough to make the speaker feel insane. She catches brief glimpses of human nature pushing through the city planner's design, but these are, at the moment, few and far between. They include a blob paint and a curled garden hose.

What does a poem is a city mean? ›

a poem is a city by Charles Bukowski Poetry Discussion - YouTube

What does rational whine mean? ›

"rational whine" is something of an oxymoron - it is more likely that a whining noise would be the product of an irrational mind, but here in the suburbs, the craziness is hidden behind a superficial normality. In the second stanza which images of the houses hint at something hidden?

What does hug your sadness like an eyeless doll mean? ›

Throughout the poem the speaker develops ways of coping with this sadness as she suggests seeing a shrink or “hug your sadness like an eyeless doll”. This simile suggests that a child unwillinging hugs the eyeless doll. Child looks to an innocent doll as a means of escaping the misery.

Who wrote the poem a sad child? ›

A Sad Child by Margaret Atwood.

Is not poem by Margaret Atwood? ›

'Is/Not' by Margaret Atwood is a short love poem that describes how love is very unlike science, and how lovers should not try to be scientists. The poem begins with Atwood's speaker stating that love is not a “profession”. One cannot study it as one can other things.


1. Should We Still Be Reading Margaret Atwood? | CanLit, White Feminism, and Settler Colonialism
(Virginia Woof)
2. How to Fix Democracy Season 3 | Margaret Atwood
(Bertelsmann Foundation)
3. Conversations at Home with Ann Dowd & Margaret Atwood of THE HANDMAID'S TALE
(SAG-AFTRA Foundation)
4. The Moment read by Margaret Atwood
(Literature Today - and Yesterday...)
5. Margaret Atwood: The Artist and the Future of Democracy with CBS Sunday Morning’s Martha Teichner
(The 92nd Street Y, New York)
6. Keynote speech by author Margaret Atwood at the Global Greenbelt Conference - March 24, 2011

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