Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1939. She is the daughter of a forest entomologist, and spent part of her early years in the bush of North Quebec. She moved, at the age of seven, to Toronto. She studied at the University of Toronto, then took her masters degree at Radcliffe College, Massachusetts, in 1962.
She is Canada's most eminent novelist and poet, and also writes short stories, critical studies, screenplays, radio scripts and books for children, her works having been translated into over 30 languages. Her reviews and critical articles have appeared in various eminent magazines and she has also edited many books, including The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English (1983) and, with Robert Weaver, The Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English (1986). She has been a full-time writer since 1972, first teaching English, then holding a variety of academic posts and writer residencies. She was President of the Writers Union of Canada from 1981-1982 and President of PEN, Canada from 1984-1986.
Her first publication was a book of poetry, The Circle Game (1964), which received the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry (Canada). Several more poetry collections have followed since, including Interlunar (1988), Morning in the Burned House (1995) and the latest, Eating Fire: Selected Poetry, 1965-1995 (1998). Also a short story writer, her books of short fiction include Dancing Girls and Other Stories (1982), Wilderness Tips (1991), and Good Bones (1992).
She is perhaps best known, however, for her novels, in which she creates strong, often enigmatic, women characters and excels in telling open-ended stories, while dissecting contemporary urban life and sexual politics. Her first novel was The Edible Woman (1969), about a woman who cannot eat and feels that she is being eaten. This was followed by: Surfacing (1973), which deals with a woman's investigation into her father's disappearance; Lady Oracle (1977); Life Before Man (1980); Bodily Harm (1982), the story of Rennie Wilford, a young journalist recuperating on a Caribbean island; and The Handmaid's Tale (1986), a futuristic novel describing a woman's struggle to break free from her role. Her latest novels have been: Cat's Eye (1989), dealing with the subject of bullying among young girls; The Robber Bride (1993); Alias Grace (1996), the tale of a woman who is convicted for her involvement in two murders about which she claims to have no memory; The Blind Assassin (2000), a multi-layered family memoir; and Oryx and Crake (2003), a vision of a scientific dystopia, which was shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and for the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction.
These novels have received many awards. Alias Grace, The Handmaid's Tale and Cat's Eye have all been shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. The Blind Assassin was successful in winning this prize in 2000.
Some of Margaret Atwood's books have been adapted for stage and screen. A film based on Alias Grace is currently being made, and a four-part mini-seres based on The Blind Assassin and screenplay for The Robber Bride are also underway. The theatrical version of The Edible Woman is currently also being successfully staged. The Handmaid's Tale was adapted for screen by Harold Pinter in a film directed by Volker Schlorndorf, released in 1990, and is now being staged as an opera by Poul Ruders. The British Premiere was performed by English National Opera at the Coliseum, London, in April 2003.
Margaret Atwood is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, has been presented with the Order of Ontario and the Norwegian Order of Literary Merit, and has been awarded sixteen honorary degrees. She has lived in many places including Canada, England, Scotland and France, and currently lives in Toronto.
Her most recent books are: The Door (2007), a collection of poetry; Payback (2008), a collection of lectures about debt; and The Year of the Flood (2009), her latest novel.