Margaret Atwood is a first lady of letters

Margaret Atwood is among the most-honored authors of fiction in recent history. Known for her work as a novelist, Atwood is also a poet, critic, essayist and environmental activist. One of the rare writers who has made her living from her craft, Atwood published her first novel in 1969. The Edible Woman (First Anchor Books Edition 1998) came out when I was 11 years old. I am reading it now as each member of my Brooktondale Fiction Book Club selected one of Atwood’s novels for discussion. She’s written more than 35 books, so there was something for everyone to read.

Margaret Atwood recently spoke at Cornell University and she is Canada’s first lady of letters. Known for her ‘speculative fiction,’ Atwood avoids the term “science fiction,” prefering “social science fiction” instead. The ranks of writers like Aldous Huxley, J.R.R. Tolkien  and Edward Bellamy are Margaret Atwood’s literary peers. In 1987, Atwood received the first Arthur C. Clarke Award, named for author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and member of sci fi’s “Big Three:”Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein.

But The Edible Woman was her first published book and it fits the more conventional notions of a contemporary novel. The truly speculative stuff based in alternative worlds comes later in her publishing career. This first book is seminal in her career.

Marian McAlpin is a young woman who dates a man with a marriage phobia, which she doesn’t mind so much until he proposes. Marian works for a market research company conducting surveys door to door. Her roommate, who has the radical notion of getting pregnant and raising a child on her own, has set her eyes on Marian’s friend, Len. Her fiancée, Peter, and Len have become fast friends. She overhears their conversation about gutting a rabbit while hunting, and suddenly Marian cannot eat meat. In fact, she can’t eat and soon realizes she is being consumed by Peter. Heady stuff for readers at the beginning of the Women’s Movement. Today it is still a good read about relationships in American culture. The ways in which a woman allows herself, her identity, to be swallowed up by a man are as relevant as ever.

While Margaret Atwood claims her fiction is not autobiographical, there is in hindsight some parallels with her own lifestory.She married Jim Polk in 1968 and divorced in 1973. Soon after she began a relationship with Graeme Gibson, and in 1976 they had a daughter, Eleanor. Until 1980 they lived on a farm in rural Ontario; Atwood now considers Toronto home.

Just recently she gave a TED talk that I found particularly interesting regarding the future of authors and publishing. She’s a wonderful speaker as well as a writer. In the Wake of the Flood by Canadian director Ron Mann was released in late 2010, following Atwood on her book tour for her novel, The Year of the Flood. Her voice is one I enjoy reading; an American classic.  

click on this link to watch Margaret Atwood’s TED talk:


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