Today is the birthday of Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite writers, one of the writers who most inspires me. Every year I hope she's chosen for the Nobel Prize for Literature--she writes in so many different genres, and manages each one so perfectly. I've never finished a novel of hers and felt disappointed; how many authors can make that claim on you?
The first book of hers that I read was The Handmaid's Tale, a book which terrified me with its absolutely believable account of the takeover of the U.S. by a fundamentalist Christian faction. It's a book that holds up remarkably well; I just reread it a few years ago and still found it terrifying.
I must have become an Atwood evangelist, pressing that book into the hands of friends far and wide. I don't remember doing that, but I've had friends who tell me that I told them with great fervor that they must read the book (and I do have a tendency to do that). That book convinced several of us of the importance of women's reproductive rights. Women can have access to a wide range of jobs, but if we can't control our fertility, those opportunities won't mean much.
In later years, I'm also struck by the environmental degradation in that novel and more famously, in her later novels (Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood). When she was in Miami as part of the book tour for Oryx and Crake, she said that before she wrote the book, she did an amazing amount of research, and much (all?) of what she describes could happen: we already have the technology and the know how to do them.
Similarly, she said that when she wrote The Handmaid's Tale that everything that happened in that book was actually occurring to women somewhere on the planet in the mid-80's.
She's written historical fiction and contemporary fiction, in addition to her jaunts into science fiction, and she does them all spectacularly. Her poetry thrills me. Her nonfiction is better written than almost any other non-fiction being written today.
It's writers like Margaret Atwood that inspired me originally to be a writer. What they did, I wanted to do too. Margaret Atwood still inspires me, although with that twinge of sadness that comes from having to admit that I'd need several lifetimes of practice and honing to become as good as she is. But what a wonderful goal to have.
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