A Canadian imagination that knows no bounds.

Armed with an incredibly fertile imagination and a gift for storytelling, today’s honoree for Canada week is author, poet, teacher, literary critic and environmental activist, Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood

It would seem that this woman was a literary prodigy, as Ms. Atwood began putting pen to paper at the tender age of 6. Beginning her career as a poet, her first published work was Double Persephone, in 1961. Atwood had some success as a poet publishing four more collections of poetry before her first novel, The Edible Woman was published in 1969.

In this novel, Atwood explores the rejection of gender roles, loss of identity and alienation, themes that were ahead of their time when she originally wrote the book, in 1965, but right in line with where the women’s movement was by the time it was published, four years later. It is for this reason that Atwood rejected the description of this book as feminist, preferring, instead to call it protofeminist. Ms. Atwood has a knack of being able to see where society is headed before it gets there.

Margaret Atwood has been a finalist for the prestigious Booker prize five times. Her first appearance on that list was in 1986 a year after The Handmaid’s Tale was published. Her most famous work, The Handmaid’s Tale also won the very first Arthur C. Clarke award in 1987 for science fiction writing, was nominated for the Nebula Award in 1986 and the Prometheus Award in 1987.

Inspired by Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, The Handmaid’s Tale takes that inspiration, turns it on it’s ear and goes places Chaucer would never dare to go. Because of it’s controversial, often sexual nature, The Handmaid’s Tale  is listed as one of the 100 ‘most frequently challenged books’ from 1990 to 1999 on the American Library Association’s website. It has been accused of being anti- Christian and anti-Islamic as well as pornographic.  What it is, is another book that was ahead of it’s time that challenges the status quo. It’s a book that is typical of the kind of literary bravery one can expect from Margaret Atwood.

The novel that finally won Atwood the elusive Booker Prize was The Blind Assassin, published in 2000. Another novel that was showered with awards, The Blind Assassin also won The Hammett Prize in 2001 and was nominated for The Governor General’s Award in 200, The Orange Prize for Fiction and The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2002. Time Magazine named The Blind Assassin the best novel of 2000 and included it in its list of the 100 greatest English-language novels since 1923.

The ambitious thing about the Blind Assassin was the inclusion of a novel within a novel. The book also deals with the guilt and shame of an extramarital affair during the 1940’s in a unique and intriguing way. The Blind Assassin shows that Atwood is as skilled at historical fiction as she is at fiction set in the future.

Margaret Atwood is also adept at telling a true story. The novel Alias Grace recounts the notorious 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Upper Canada. Although the novel is based on factual events, Atwood takes some creative liberty with the addition of a fictional narrator who is investigating the case.

Some of my favourite books are ones that expertly weave fictitious characters in with actual events and Alias Grace is no exception. Atwood often writes in multiple points of view. In this novel she shifts between first and third person narrative seamlessly.

Though she is primarily known for her novels, Margaret Atwood has written in many different mediums from collections of poetry and short stories, to children’s books, non-fiction, anthologies and television scripts.

One of Atwood’s seven children’s books

This year, Atwood was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for Canada. This is fitting, because Margaret Atwood and her work have become synonymous with Canada and the Canadian experience.

And you can follow her on twitter at @MargaretAtwood

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