In 2019, some thirty-four years after The Handmaid’s Tale won the very first Arthur C. Clarke award for best novel, Margaret Atwood released a sequel called The Testaments, set some fifteen years after the original. It received tremendous critical and commercial acclaim and was joint winner of the Man Books Prize along with Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. Not bad going for an author pushing eighty years old.
Born in Ottawa, Canada in 1939, Margaret Atwood did not attend school full time until the age of twelve. Once she started school, however, she began devouring fiction and began writing in earnest through the remainder of her education, mainly poetry and short stories.
Her first published work came in 1966 as a book of poetry titled The Circle Game, that was published while she was working as a lecturer in English. She didn’t release her first novel, The Edible Woman, until 1969, however, upon release, which coincided with the rise of the women's movement in North America, it was hailed as a strong piece of feminist literature that made Atwood a bright new voice in literature.
Being labelled as a feminist writer is something that Atwood has been resistant to in her career, despite much of her work dealing with gender and political identity. Even with the release of The Edible Woman, she said “I don't consider it feminism; I just consider it social realism.” One could almost argue that being labelled as such was something of a happy accident. Despite her resistance, she was honoured by Equality Now in 2018 at their Make Equality Reality gala.
This resistance also stems to her most famous work, The Handmaid’s Tale, although not regarding any feminist undertones - one could argue it’s her most overtly feminist novel – but rather its label as a science fiction novel. She was once quoted as saying that science fiction is nothing more than “talking squids in outer space,” somewhat incurring the wrath of famous SF authors. Yet, despite her misgivings, The Handmaid’s Tale is regarded a classic of the genre.
If there is one thing you can say about Margaret Atwood, it’s that she writes without compromise. There is no pandering to the masses or any deliberate need to affiliate with a particular gender or political ideology. She is an author that will tackle genre, social commentary, write poetry, even go ahead and write a direct sequel, but through all this, her passion for telling the world through a lens is not hindered by the want to, ultimate, just tell a good story.
It’s terrific to still see her as a voice to be reckoned with. There are few authors of her age or gender that can maintain such a strong presence for such a long time in the literary world. Even if she doesn’t release anything else, Margaret Atwood has ensured she’s left an indelible imprint in the world of fiction.
Her latest novel, The Testaments, is out now on kindle and in paperback.