It’s difficult to believe that the divine Miss Atwood turns 72 today. Difficult because, as we’ve said often enough in reviews and interviews, the author’s voice is as vibrant and variable now as it was 20 and even 30 years ago. One could argue that it is more so: Atwood writes with the verve of someone still pushing towards the zenith of her powers.
The Writer’s Almanac gives us some background:
It’s the birthday of Canadian novelist and poet Margaret Atwood (1939), born in Ottawa, Ontario. Her father was an entomologist, and she spent a good deal of her childhood out in the woods with him as he did field work. The family moved frequently, from Ottawa to northern Quebec to Toronto, and Atwood was 11 before she attended a full year of school. She read a lot as a child, but didn’t dream of becoming a writer at first; her earliest career aspirations were to the visual arts. “All writers, I suspect — and probably all people — have parallel lives, what they would have been if they hadn’t turned into what they are,” she told The Paris Review in 1990. “I have several of these, and one is certainly a life as a painter. When I was 10, I thought I would be one; by the time I was 12, I had changed that to dress designer, and then reality took over and I confined myself to doodles in the margins of my textbooks.” She began writing poetry in high school, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe; by the time she was 16, she knew she wanted to be a writer.
Her novels, like The Handmaid’s Tale (1983) and Cat’s Eye (1988), frequently question or criticize social institutions. “I grew up in the woods outside of any social structures apart from those of my family. So I didn’t absorb social structures through my skin the way many children do. If you grow up in a small town you instinctively know who is who and what is what and whom you can safely be contemptuous of.”
You can read January Magazine’s 2000 interview with Atwood here.