At 76, there are few genres Canadian writer Margaret Atwood has not worked in. Author of seventeen volumes of poetry, eight collections of short fiction, and fifteen novels, she has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, winning once for The Blind Assassin in 2000. Atwood was also nominated for the Man Booker International Prize in both 2005 and 2007.
Her work ranges from incisive realist writing to speculative fiction. The writer and critic Trisha Gupta caught up with Atwood on 30 January, a few days after Atwood's conversation with writer Patrick French at the India Habitat Centre, Delhi. Gupta and Atwood discussed genre, parental approval and the place of realistic fiction in the digital age.
Trisha Gupta: You have a longstanding interest in the environment. Where does it come from?
Margaret Atwood: I was what they call an early adopter. Because I did grow up in it. My dad was a biologist.
My parents were conscious very early, of things like pesticides, DDT, things that affected biological populations. They were early Sierra Club, Federation of Ontario naturalists, conservationists, birdwatchers, back in the day when it was thought to be kind of nutty. My brother turned into a biologist... So I know the plot... It made it easy for me to write a book like Oryx and Crake [the first in a post-apocalyptic trilogy that looks at rebuilding the world after a chemical fallout]. And I knew if I didn't talk the talk correctly, I was going to get a critique from my brother. He said (switches to a voice lower than her own): “I think you did quite a good job on the sex. But I'm not so sure about the cats.” But science has borne me out since! Turns out that the purring of cats does have a neurologically soothing effect and is akin to the ultrasound that we use to heal bones.