Tag: Man Booker Prize

Margaret Atwood

10 Facts About Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood, huh? She wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. She’s won some awards. I think she’s Canadian.


If your Atwood knowledge needs a little freshening up, look no further. We’ve got you covered. Here are the ten quirkiest facts about Atwood.


1. Both of her parents were scientists.


Atwood’s mother, Margaret Dorothy, was a dietician and nutritionist in Nova Scotia, and her father, Carl Edmund Atwood, was an entomologist who focused on forests in particular. Growing up, Atwood spent a lot of time in woods of Canada, where her mother would teach her and her siblings. At eight years old Atwood began attending school full-time, but many of her reading and writing habits started before her formal education.


2. She wrote a comic called Angel Catbird about a cat-bird-person


'Angel Catbird'

Image Via Amazon


As a lifelong fan of comic books, Atwood finally wrote one of her own in 2016. Angel Catbird was illustrated by Johnnie Christmas and published by Dark Horse Comics. The story follows a genetic engineer named Strig Feleedus whose genes get mixed with a cat’s and an owl’s after an experiment goes awry. In the style of pulpy comics from back in the day, Atwood’s superhero adventure story sounds like tons of fun.


3. No, she doesn’t hate science fiction.


The divide between genre fans and literary fiction fans is perhaps most clear when looking at Atwood’s relationship with the sci-fi community. She has historically refused to classify The Handmaid’s Tale as a work of science fiction, preferring the label speculative fiction. She once stated sci-fi involves “talking squids in outer space.” Once this was written on her Wikipedia page, sci-fi fans have not been able to let it go. She has since amended her comments, while still maintaining there’s a difference between speculative and science fictions. In an introduction to the 2011 essay collection In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, Atwood writes that her work is speculative fiction rather than sci-fi “Not because I don’t like Martians . . . they just don’t fall within my skill set.” Let that be the final word. Please.


4. She wrote an opera.


Pauline Johnson

Pauline Johnson / Image Via Wikipedia


Along with her comic book cred, Atwood has experimented in opera writing. Commissioned in 2008 and premiered in 2014, Atwood’s Pauline was composed by Tobin Stokes and she wrote the libretto (story, words, etc.) The story follows the days before Canadian writer and performer Pauline Johnson’s death in 1913. How many writers can you think of who’ve written an opera?


5. She is Honorary President of the Rare Bird Club.


Atwood and her partner, novelist Graeme Gibson, were made Joint Honorary Presidents of BirdLife International’s Rare Bird Club. It’s not clear what exactly Atwood does for the Rare Bird Club, but BirdLife International is dedicated to the conservation of endangered bird species around the world (as the name would suggest). You can check out this video to learn more and Atwood makes a brief, endearing appearance.



6. She lived in West Berlin during the Cold War.


In her wonderful interview with Emma Watson, Atwood spoke about her time writing The Handmaid’s Tale in 1984 while living in West Berlin. Answering whether or not her time in West Berlin inspired The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood told Watson:


I had been thinking about it before I’d arrived, and at that time — when I was in West Berlin—I also visited Czechoslovakia and East Germany and Poland. They weren’t revelations, because being as old as I am I knew about life behind the Iron Curtain, but it was very interesting to be right inside, to sense the atmosphere….So it was very interesting to be there, but it wasn’t the primary inspiration.


7. She may or may not be descended from an alleged witch.


According to family lore, Atwood may be descended from a 17th-century Massachusetts woman who’d been accused of witchcraft. Her name was Mary Webster and she was sentenced to death by hanging. However, at the time they weren’t doing drop hangings. They would just hang the person up there and wait until they died. The night went by and, lo and behold, Mary survived. After that, she was called Half-Hanged Mary. Atwood’s not 100% sure this is true, but she can trace the Webster name back to John Webster, who was the fifth governor of Connecticut in the 17th-century. Connecticut’s not far from Massachusetts.


8. She is a student of military history.


The New Yorker’s profile of Atwood notes that she traveled around the world with Gibson and her daughter in 1976. Of particular interest is her stop in Afghanistan, where she stopped “to see the terrain where the British had been defeated.” That’s cool. When I go on vacation it’s usually to a theme park and it’s usually to eat fried things.


9. She doesn’t drive


Atwood’s life in her Toronto mansion seems weirdly ordinary. In lieu of driving, she walks all around her neighborhood, stopping to talk to her Canadian friends about life in town, and donating books upon books upon books to her local library. She’s a real townsperson despite her literary standing. A Man Booker winner who socializes with the little people, wow.


10. Northrop Frye helped get her career started in undergrad


When she was enrolled at the University of Toronto in undergrad, Atwood audited Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye’s course on the Bible and literature. Frye helped Atwood score a fellowship to Harvard, where she eventually worked on a doctoral dissertation titled “The English Metaphysical Romance.” But after two years, Atwood dropped out of Harvard and left her dissertation unfinished. It’s cool, though, because writing The Handmaid’s Tale counts as bigger and better things. Sorry, Harvard!


Feature Image Via Literary Hub

George Saunders award

George Saunders, American, Wins Man Booker Prize, UK’s Top Literary Award

The 2017 Man Booker Prize will be awarded to George Saunders for his debut novel Lincoln in the Bardo. Saunders was the favorite to win UK’s top literary prize, his competition including Americans Paul Auster and Emily Fridlund, Brits Ali Smith and Fiona Mozley, and British-Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid.


Lincoln Bardo

Image Via Amazon


Lincoln in the Bardo follows the ghost of President Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie as he reckons with his own death. President Lincoln’s visits to his son’s grave are a prominent role in the story as well. One of the things that makes the book unique is Saunders’ voice. Rather, his variety of voices. There are living voices and ghost voices. Dialogue and interior monologue. It’s something like a literary mosaic–a singular story told by a kind of torrent of voices.


Chair of the 2017 judging panel, Baroness Lola Young, said of the novel:


This really stood out because of its innovation – its very different styling and the way in which it paradoxically brought to life these not-quite-dead souls in this other world. There was this juxtaposition of the very personal tragedy of Abraham Lincoln with his public life, as the person who’d really instigated the American Civil War.


Apparently, it took five hours of discussion and debate before the judges came to their unanimous decision. Along with Young, the judges included novelist Sarah Hall, artist Tom Phillips, literary critic Lila Azam Zanganeh, travel writer Colin Thubron.


Since the award began in 1969, it had been only awarded to Commonwealth, Irish, or South African writers until 2014, when it was opened to all novels written in English. Last year, American writer Paul Beatty won for his book The SelloutIt seems the Americans are encroaching on the UK’s literary territory now.


Though Lincoln in the Bardo was Saunders’ debut novel, his short fiction has won a bunch of awards including the Folio Prize in 2014 for Tenth of December, and he was also awarded the MacArthur (‘Genius’) Grant in 2006. Saunders teaches at the MFA program in Syracuse University.


Feature Image Via the Atlantic

Man Booker nominees

2017 Man Booker Prize Shortlist Drops and Raises Eyebrows

The 2017 Man Booker Prize shortlist has been announced, and it’s somewhat surprising. The six novels are:


Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Bloomsbury)


4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (Faber & Faber)


History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)


Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)


Elmet by Fiona Mozley (JM Originals, John Murray)


Autumn by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)


Among the surprises this year is the diversity of experience. George Saunders and Paul Auster are well-established American writers, though Lincoln in the Bardo is Saunders’s (excellent) first novel. These two greats are up against two debut novelists: Fiona Mozley and Emily Fridlund. Lastly, Ali Smith and Mohsin Hamid have both previously been on the Booker shortlist.


Lincoln in the Bardo is told from the perspective of, essentially, a choir of ghosts after Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, dies. Willie is one of the ghosts. It’s a moving, experimental novel with Saunders’s signature wry sense of humor.


4 3 2 1 is similarly experimental, following Archibald Isaac Ferguson as his journey splits off into four divergent, simultaneous tales.


History of Wolves follows a teenage girl’s experience in a cult. The chilly Minnesota setting is just right.


Exit West is about refugees who can walk through doors in order to quickly, mysteriously get to other parts of the world.


Elmet follows a family who moves to Yorkshire’s West Riding, Elmet, but things take a distinctly medieval turn. As her debut, Mozley puts her Ph.D. (candidacy) in medieval history to use in Elmet.


Ali Smith’s Autumn is a post-Brexit novel, and marks her fourth time making the Man Booker shortlist in less than twenty years.


With some notable snubs (Colson Whitehead’s National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning The Underground Railroad), and heavy focus on American writers, this year’s Man Booker shortlist is raising some eyebrows in the literary community. What’s not in doubt is the talent of these six writers. We’ll find out the winner of the £50,000 prize on October 17th. Until then, it’s time to catch up on these great reads!



Feature Images Via HuffPost, NY Daily News, MPR News, LA Times, Sky News, and Alchetron

The Man Booker Prize

Top 5 Man Booker Picks From the Last 5 Years

The longlist for the Man Booker Prize is here with some big names, including Zadie Smith, Arundhati Roy, and Paul Auster. We look back at some of our favorite nominees from the past five years.



“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce


Book cover for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Image Courtesy of Amazon


Joyce’s novel made the long-list this time five years ago, and is the charming tale of an elderly gentleman, Harold Fry, and the journey he somewhat unwittingly embarks on in order to visit a dying friend. The book won the National Book Award in the UK for New Writer of the Year.



“A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki 


Cover for A Tale for the Time Being

Image Courtesy of Amazon


Ozeki’s wide reaching tale spans across time and oceans to tell the tale of bullied 16 year old Nao in Tokyo, her grandmother who was a Buddhist nun, and the novelist named Ruth who discovers Nao’s writing washed up on the beach after the 2011 tsunami. This brilliantly colorful, inventive novel won the 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction.



“The Lives of Others” by Neel Mukherjee


Cover for The Lives of Others

Image Courtesy of Neel Mukherjee


Set in India, this novel is an examination of the hierarchy, both literal and figurative, within the Ghosh family who all live on different floors of a house, according to their status. Bitter rivalries threaten the family structure, and the oldest grandchild’s involvement in extremist political activism further endangers the family structure. The novel won the 2014 Encore Award. 



“The Year of the Runaways” by Sanjeev Sahota


Cover for The Year of the Runaways

Image Courtesy of Amazon


Sahota, one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, his second novel deals with immigrants coming from India to Britain, and spans many countries and characters. Taking place over the course of one year, the lives of the four principal characters become irrevocably entwined. The book won the European Prize for Literature in 2017.



“Do Not Say We Have Nothing” by Madeleine Thein


Cover for Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Image Courtesy of Goodreads


Winner of the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, this novel follows two generations of a family: the parents who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and their children, the students who protested in Tiananmen Square. The story focuses on a young woman Marie, and her friend Ai-Ming. Through their friendship, Marie attempts to piece together the tale of her family in present-day Vancouver. 


Featured Image Courtesy of the Peabody Institute Library