Margaret Atwood

See a list of all the books by Margaret Atwood

Biography

MARGARET ATWOOD is the author of more than forty books - novels, short stories, poetry, literary criticism, social history, and books for children. Atwood's work is acclaimed internationally and has been published around the world. Her novels include The Handmaid's Tale and Cat's Eye -- both shortlisted for the Booker Prize; The Robber Bride, winner of the Trillium Book Award and a finalist for the Governor General's Award; Alias Grace, winner of the prestigious Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy, and a finalist for the Governor General's Award, the Booker Prize, the Orange Prize, and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; The Blind Assassin, winner of the Booker Prize and a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and Oryx and Crake, a finalist for The Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award, the Orange Prize, and the Man Booker Prize. Her most recent books of fiction are Moral Disorder, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood. Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with novelist Graeme Gibson.

TheReadingRoom.com in conversation with Margaret Atwood

You write in many different genres and you could have chosen science fiction to tell the story of MaddAddam, but instead you have chosen to tell us this story in speculative fiction form. I am sure that this was a very deliberate decision on your part. Could you tell us why you have decided to take this path? And what did you want to achieve? ... more
MARGARET ATWOOD is the author of more than forty books - novels, short stories, poetry, literary criticism, social history, and books for children. Atwood's work is acclaimed internationally and has been published around the world. Her novels include The Handmaid's Tale and Cat's Eye -- both shortlisted for the Booker Prize; The Robber Bride, winner of the Trillium Book Award and a finalist for the Governor General's Award; Alias Grace, winner of the prestigious Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy, and a finalist for the Governor General's Award, the Booker Prize, the Orange Prize, and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; The Blind Assassin, winner of the Booker Prize and a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and Oryx and Crake, a finalist for The Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award, the Orange Prize, and the Man Booker Prize. Her most recent books of fiction are Moral Disorder, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood. Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with novelist Graeme Gibson.

TheReadingRoom.com in conversation with Margaret Atwood

You write in many different genres and you could have chosen science fiction to tell the story of MaddAddam, but instead you have chosen to tell us this story in speculative fiction form. I am sure that this was a very deliberate decision on your part. Could you tell us why you have decided to take this path? And what did you want to achieve?

The membranes separating these two sub-genres are very leaky. There is no God of Genres up in the sky making hard and fast rules. But, in general, “speculative fiction” may be said to refer to fictions that take place ion this earth (not in other universes), and with technologies that already exist or are in development, not with ones that are not possible, or not yet. “Warp speed” is not yet possible. Gene-splicing is. I wanted to stick to the possible, for two reasons: 1) Things that might really happen engage my attention on a level beyond entertainment, and 2) I’m not good at writing pure science fiction, just as I’m not good at playing the piano. I’d like to be able to play the piano. But I can’t.

Your early writing attempts involved SF and the creation of flying superhero rabbits, and you have used this genre and these themes on numerous occasions throughout your writing career. What do you think this genre offers to both a writer and a reader that other literary genres cannot?

Actually I have never written pure SF at any length. If you mean The Handmaid’s Tale and the MaddAddam trilogy: setting a story of our own potential trajectory in the future allows us to live a scenario that, if placed within a realistic present-day fiction, could only be portrayed as a blueprint, a speculation, a daydream, or a story-within-the-story. Thus the experience can have an immediacy that would not otherwise be possible.

I also wonder if you have any patterns that you follow in your writing: does the story come first and the genre follows, or do you make a decision that your next work will be a particular genre and then decide on a storyline that fits it best?

I don’t think of “genres” as boxes into which ideas get stuffed. What we now consider “genres” simply emerged out of story-telling and prose narrative. We stick labels on things to help us to define them and to arrange them in bookstores, but any good book escapes its labels. So, to answer your question: I write stories, and let others worry about the labels.

You have an incredible knack for predicting the future in both your fiction and non-fiction; do you ever feel scared when you write a book, thinking that what you’re writing might actually happen?

I have no special crystal ball. I follow trends, as many people do. But I like to think that none of the scary things in my books will actually happen. Although some of them already have.

You published Oryx and Crake 10 years ago in 2003, The Year of Flood came in 2009, and you are ending the trilogy with MaddAddam in 2013. The development of science and technology is speeding up every year, and in that 10-year period lots has changed. Would you have done anything different in Oryx and Crake if you were starting to write it now?

I would not have had Jimmy trashing library books after they’ve been put on CD Roms. He’d just be uploading them into the cloud. I might have had him speed-dating on the internet. He’d probably be eating some lab meat, as they now do in MaddAddam. But these are tweaks. The general configuration of our gridlocked times was already in place by 2003.

MaddAddam touches upon many issues: environmental, economic, scientific, social … however, it is a novel, and not a work of non-fiction. What role do you think fiction and storytelling have in shaping our perception of these issues?

As human beings, we appear to be hard-wired to tell and understand stories. We aren’t hard-wired to make charts and graphs, and calculate using higher math. Those things have to be learned. Stories of all kinds shape our perceptions of all kinds. Governments and advertisers know this well. If you really want insight into a given society, go to the story-tellers first. From the official ones, you’ll learn what the society wants to believe, and wants you to believe. From the unofficial ones you’ll get the shadow side. The best guide to the Cold War, western side, remains John LeCarré.

You are well known for your voice of concern and activism in environmental issues; what, in your opinion, is the most important issue to solve right now to prevent the kind of the dark picture that you paint in MaddAddam?

There is no one single “issue” to be solved; there is a constellation of pressing concerns. Air, water, earth, and fire… MaddAddam is in fact rather sunny. Life in it goes on; there are still (some) people. That’s optimistic. Keep an eye on the oceans. If they go, so do we, because they produce 60-80% of the oxygen we breathe.

Could you recommend a couple of novels on similar subjects that you have found very powerful and would like more people to read?

If you put “environmental novels” into your search engine, you’ll get a lot of lists! I’ll remark simply that this is an old motif. Nineteenth century authors such as Fenimore Cooper, Melville, William Morris, and Thoreau were already writing about wastage, overkill, pollution, and degradation. It’s almost impossible to write a realistic novel or even a crime novel these days without having the characters think about these issues, because we are thinking about them. For instance: Carl Hiaasen writes hilarious, dark crime novels about corruption in Florida. He’s been doing it for years. Many of them turn on the trashing of the biosphere for profit. Try Sick Puppy. Have a laugh. Have a scream.

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Great interview - Great answers inspired by Great Questions. I was at a writers festival recently - and saw a provoctaive poster - 'Why dont boys have women as heros?' - Got me thinking - Maragaret Atwood is one of my heros - super smart, super aware, super connected to issues that impact us all. Her answer is spot on re the importance of story telling - although I'd like to ask her what the success of the the '50 shades' series says about our society? Unfortunately, stuff that really matters is often overlooked through our pursuit of escapism - I prefer to call it 'sticking ones head in the sand'....Then again - we all read for different reasons. Looking forward to reading MaddAddam.

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