Margaret Atwood's Crystal Ball Is Scarily Accurate

Long before Margaret Atwood became a poet and a Booker Prize–winning author, with more than 60 works to her name—including her terrifying, prescient classic The Handmaid’s Tale, the English-class staple and inspiration for the Emmy-winning Hulu show and countless women’s rights protests this year by activists dressed in oppressive bonnets and red cloaks—she was raised to be a storyteller.

“My mother read to us every night when we were little,” says Atwood, with a surprising tenderness to her voice. “And my older brother would make these little books by folding paper and putting on a cover and writing in them until the end, and I did that too.” As she was growing up in the woods of northern Ontario, consuming and creating narratives was more than just a pastime. It was a solace. “There was no electricity, no school, and no libraries, and television wasn’t there yet,” Atwood remembers. “We weren’t getting any radio except for Moscow shortwave, but there were lots of books. I read all the books, and then I read them all again.”

By age 16, Atwood was determined to become a professional writer.

Issey Miyake jacket. Wolford top. Salvatore Ferragamo scarf. Cuchara earrings.

In the 1950s, in Canada, though, that wasn’t a conventional path. “It wasn’t in the book of careers,” Atwood recalls. “There were no creative writing classes, but the thing about the school curriculum was that although there weren’t many Canadian writers, there were women, English women, and one dead American woman, Emily Dickinson, who were really inspiring.” While reading Katherine Mansfield, Jane Austen, and the Brontës as an undergraduate at Victoria College, Atwood explored her own voice, self-publishing a book of poetry, Double Persephone.

Atwood is far from sentimental about the start-cute of her career: “We went around to book- stores, and they actually took them for 50 cents. It’s just what you did,” she explains. “It taught me that you could make things, and there are still these entry points that involve a certain amount of self-publication.” She considers the 1966 debut of The Circle Game, which was accepted and then rejected (“I’d told all my friends—that was depressing,” she says) and then, finally, published by Contact Press, her “real debut.”

In an industry of commercial-thriller writers, and historical-fiction writers, and literary novelists, and poets, and essayists, Atwood has, from those earliest days, refused to pick a lane. She’s a true multigenre author. “Nobody told me not to be,” she says. “There aren’t any rules that say you can’t. There’s other people—and sometimes it’s you—who make up those rules, but are they really rules?” she muses, both alarming and hopeful in her conviction. Like so many of the protagonists that live on her pages, she doesn’t shy away from the difficult task of challenging the status quo, particularly for women. Atwood’s morality, her intellect, and her imagination are all fluid between genres. All of it is a map of her heart and her mind. Her lane, you might say, is feminism.

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