Creative Contribution / Culture / Rachel Sumner

Creative Contribution: Margaret Atwood

Creative Contributions is a new series in which Rachel Sumner will take a closer look at the lives and works of those in the creative industries. This week: Margaret Atwood

I believe Margaret Atwood to be one of the most influential writers of this generation. Most of her fiction tends to be of the dystopian or science fiction genres, making her one of the few female writers that are well known for this style. Two favourites of mine have to be:

 The Handmaid’s Tale (1983)

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian fiction, set in the time of a right wing religious tyranny. Fertility is becoming extremely rare, and so the human race is on the brink of extinction. This book follows the story of Offred, who is a ‘Handmaid’ – a fertile woman who is enslaved and forced to bare children for elite barren couples.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale is both a superlative exercise in science fiction and a profoundly felt moral story’ – Angela Carter

‘Out of a narrative shadowed by terror, glam sharp perceptions, brilliant intense images and sardonic wit’ – Peter Kemp, Independent

‘The images of brilliant emptiness are one of the most striking aspects of this novel about totalitarian blindness…the effect is chilling’ – Sunday Times

The Blind Assassin (2000)

‘Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge’.

More than fifty years later, Iris Chase is thinking about the events that surrounded Laura’s mysterious death. Chief among these was the publication of The Blind Assassin, a sexually explicit novel that earned Laura notoriety and a cult following. So begins a compelling and extraordinary story of two sisters and their secrets.

‘Atwood has never written with more flair and versatility than in this multidimensional novel. Adding sardonic wit and characterisation that takes you into the ambivalent intricacies of a personality, this is a novel of extraordinary variety and reach. A brilliant accomplishment’ – Peter Kemp

‘The fertility of Atwood’s imagination is something extraordinary…the only thing familiar about The Blind Assassin is its technical accomplishment and exhilarating emotional power. Everything else is sparkling new. This is Margaret Atwood at her remarkable best’ – Kathryn Hughes

‘Margaret Atwood is one of the most brilliant and unpredictable novelists alive’ – Kate Kellaway, Literary Review

Born in 1939 in Ottawa, Atwood grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec and Toronto. She is the second of three children, and started writing when she was 6. She spent a lot of her childhood travelling, and didn’t start education full-time until she was in the eighth grade. At the age of 16, she decided that she wanted to become a professional writer. She went on to study at Victoria College, part of the University of Toronto, where she graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor of Arts with honours in English, and a minor in philosophy and French.

She has lectured at numerous colleges and universities, and has a long list of awards and honorary degrees to her name,. She has had more than fifty volumes of poetry, fiction, children’s fiction and non-fiction published, but is probably best known for her novels.

She’s not just involved in writing books though. She also writes articles for newspapers and magazines, and has her own column in The New York Times. She has recently been a featured writer at the Pelee Island annual SpringSong festival, and is the co-inventor of Long Pen: a device that lets you legally sign documents electronically.

Interesting Facts:

  • Part of a long line of women with feminist involvement

    • Related to Mary Webster, who survived being hanged for witchcraft in the 17th Century

  • Her politics are commonly described as left-wing, although has suggested in interviews that she is a Red Tory

  • 13 novels published

  • 10 Short story collections

  • 20 poetry collections

  • 7 children’s books

  • 3 television scripts

  • Won more than 55 awards

  • Has around 18 honorary degrees

Rachel Sumner


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