“Every totalitarian government on the planet has always taken a very great interest in women’s reproductive rights,” says Margaret Atwood; a disquieting insight at any time, but particularly in today’s portentous political landscape. Just as it did when it was first published, the story of The Handmaid’s Tale—a future where women are treated as property of the state, run by an authoritarian regime—is unearthing chilling patterns to an uneasy public. The book’s long-awaited sequel The Testaments performed so well it broke the record for best first-day sales of any Penguin Random House title that year. Having initially gone to press on the novel for 500,000 copies, the publisher went back twice for more copies in the span of just over a week.
With her work already producing two blockbuster television adaptations—first The Handmaid’s Tale, then Alias Grace—Atwood’s vision is reaching a wider audience than ever before. To date, The Handmaid’s Tale has received 54 Emmy nominations and 15 awards, including Best Drama, and Atwood herself received a standing ovation at the show. Meanwhile, Atwood’s Giller-winning, Booker-shortlisted murder mystery Alias Grace is now streaming on Netflix, and was notably written, produced, and directed by women. But before Atwood was a novelist, and before her work became the subject of award-winning TV, she was a poet. And recently, she released her first poetry collection in over a decade: Dearly. By turns “moving, playful, and wise,” the poems gathered in Dearly explore bodies and minds in transition, while observing the objects and rituals that ground us in the present moment. The Washington Post calls it “hauntingly beautiful, with reflections on life and death, time and chance, and nature and zombies.”
Atwood is the author of more than fifty volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction. She is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman, The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood. The Oryx and Crake trilogy, in particular, is being adapted into an HBO TV series by celebrated filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. To date, Atwood’s body of work has been published in more than 40 languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. Atwood has also won many international literary awards, including the prestigious Booker Prize, Arthur C. Clarke Award, Governor General’s Award, the PEN Pinter Prize, the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She was presented with the Companion of Honor award—given for achievements in the arts, literature, science, and politics—by Queen Elizabeth, making Atwood only the third Canadian to receive the honor. Atwood is a founder of the Writers’ Trust of Canada and a founding trustee of the Griffin Poetry Prize. She is also a popular personality on Twitter, with over two million followers.
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