Things you might not know (but should) about Margaret Atwood

C2 Editorial Team
Things you might not know (but should) about Margaret Atwood

Illustration: Daphné Côté-Hallé – Les Microcosmes


But first, something just about everybody knows: an internationally renowned, award-winning writer, Margaret Atwood has been ahead of her time for decades, impacting cultural circles and beyond since she first embarked on her career in 1961.

Margaret published her instant-classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale — a glimpse into a dystopian near-future — in 1985, and the Emmy Award–winning television series it spawned continues to touch a contemporary nerve. Her follow-up novel, the just-published The Testaments, is already touching a few more. And in many ways, it feels like she’s just getting warmed up.

We are honoured to have Margaret Atwood in the speaker lineup for C2 Montréal 2020 (May 27-29), and in advance of that offer you a few lesser-known facts about a literary giant who has never been more relevant.


She loves a good tweet

An early adopter of Twitter (she currently has 1.9 million followers), Margaret took the original 140-character limit as a literary challenge to get to the point and do it with pith. She and Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey have become friends (she even picked him up at the airport once, holding an “@JACK” sign). The two recently shared a stage to discuss the social media platform, online criticism and political sway.


She was accidentally Orwell-ed as a child

Assuming it was a childrens’ book about farm animals, Margaret read George Orwell’s dark political satire Animal Farm at age nine, and it left its mark. “The whole experience was deeply disturbing,” she wrote in The Guardian in 2013, “but I am forever grateful to Orwell for alerting me early to the danger flags I’ve tried to watch out for since.”


She’s a multifaceted activist

With her partner, the recently passed author, literary activist and conservationist Graeme Gibson, Margaret co-founded the nonprofit Writers’ Trust of Canada in 1976 to help Canadian writers get their words out into the world. She’s also a co-founder of PEN Canada, working with PEN International to campaign for writers who are persecuted, imprisoned or exiled. An outspoken environmental and climate activist as well, Margaret walks the talk at her O.W. Toad (an anagram of Atwood) office with exacting green policies. And the proceeds from her foray into brewing — she launched MaddAddamites NooBroo in 2015 in collaboration with Beau’s brewery — went to the Pelee Island Bird Observatory, a nonprofit bird conservancy. Speaking of our avian amigos…


She’s for the birds

Margaret is an Honorary President of BirdLife’s Rare Bird Club, “an exclusive international community of concerned individuals who are determined to make a difference” with projects designed to reverse the global decline in bird species.


She’s an indie rocker

Margaret penned the lyrics to the steam-punky tune Frankenstein Monster Song by American indie band One Ring Zero. You can enjoy that here.


She’s a study in diversification

Margaret started her writing career as a poet, self-publishing her award-winning 1961 book Double Persephone before writing the novels that began her rise to fame. She’s also written dozens of short stories, and caused a stir with her 1972 book of criticism Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. And more stirring came with a literary cookbook: The CanLit Foodbook, featuring her own illustrations. She’s signed off on feature films and miniseries based on her work since the ’90s, and in 2017 alone, three television series were based on her writing: The Handmaid’s Tale, children’s show Wandering Wenda and crime drama Alias Grace. She also wrote the chamber opera Pauline, which debuted in 2014.


She has a wicked sense of humour

She once told an interviewer and first-time visitor to Canada that the country’s national anthem is Canada’s Really Big by The Arrogant Worms. She also appeared on CBC TV satirical program The Rick Mercer Report and shared her tips for hockey goaltending, Atwood-style.


She’s crafty with comics

An artist since childhood, Margaret painted her own book covers. Under the pseudonym Bart Gerrard, she wrote comic strip Kanadian Kulture Komics in the ’70s for This magazine. She recently jumped back into comics with War Bears and The Complete Angel Catbird (about a superhero who’s part cat, part bird) published in 2018 by Dark Horse Comics.


She’s a tech inventor

With over 30 books to her name, most published worldwide and translated into over 40 languages, she faced a problem: fans in more places than she could realistically tour wanted her to personalize their book copies. So she invented the LongPen in 2006. At a time before tablets and data plans became ubiquitous, the device allowed her to sign books virtually via a touchscreen with an internet connection.


She’s part of the future

Not only do several of her novels, including The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake, peer into dystopian futures, Margaret has written herself into a yet unknown future. She was the first writer to contribute a work to the Future Library Project, which consists of publishing new books printed on paper made from a forest in Norway… in 2114. It’s very possible that her star on Canada’s Walk of Fame will last that long as well.


A cultural icon in action

Don’t miss out on a unique opportunity to hear Margaret Atwood in her own words when she gives a masterclass at C2 Montréal, May 27-29, 2020.



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