Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Canadian author Margaret Atwood awarded prestigious Spanish literary prize


Margaret Atwood seems to be one of those authors, like the lake Kurt Vonnegut, who fall between the two stools of genre fiction and so-called “mainstream” literature (whatever the heck that is). In her case, of course, the genre stool she is slipping off of all the time is s-f. She’s written some outstanding s-f works, “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Oryx and Crake” coming quickly to mind, but over the years she been quoted making some very ambivalent statements about the genre. Something about “talking space squids” comes to mind.
Interestingly enough, I found this news first in Spanish via the Associated Press. I am the editor of a daily newspaper that uses the AP, and we publish a weekly Spanish-language edition. While working on the edition today, I found the story on the Spanish-language version of the AP news wire (and used it, too). But of course I went to the web site for the Prince of Asturias awards to get their news release, which I have published below.

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The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood has been bestowed with the prestigious 2008 Prince of Asturias Award for Letters. The decision was announced by the Jury in Oviedo Wednesday, June 25.
The leading figure in Canadian literature and one of the most outstanding voices of contemporary fiction, Margaret Atwood offers in her novels a politically committed, critical view of the world and contemporary society, while revealing extraordinary sensitivity in her copious poetical oeuvre, a genre which she cultivates with great skill.
This candidature was proposed by Rogelio Blanco, Director General for Books, Archives and Libraries at the Spanish Ministry of Culture.
Considered one of the most outstanding novelists and poets on the contemporary scene, Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa (Ontario, Canada). A book lover since very young, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Victoria College, University of Toronto, and then went on to pursue postgraduate studies at Radcliff College, Cambridge (Massachusetts) and at the University of Harvard. She has lectured in English Literature at a number of Canadian universities, including the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Sir George Williams University in Montreal and York University in Toronto. A full-time writer since 1972, she has chaired the Writers? Union of Canada (1981-1982) and the Canadian chapter of the International PEN Club for Writers (1984-1986).
A truly prolific author, she obtained international recognition with the publication of her novel The Edible Woman (1969), which was followed by Surfacing (1972), Lady Oracle (1976), Life Before Man (1980), Cat?s Eye (1988) and The Robber Bride (1993). The plot of her novels frequently focuses on the figure of women, their maturity and changes in sexual roles.
She is also a consummate poet. Her poetry (a genre in which she started writing at the age of nineteen) incorporates mythological, cultural, literary and pictorial references, as in Double Persephone (1961), The Circle Game (1964) and Procedures for Underground (1970). In You are Happy (1974) and Two-Headed Poems (1978), she revealed her interest in social literature: in the former she explores women?s oppression and in the latter, the latent conflict existing in Canada between two cultures and two languages. These concerns were to newly emerge in True Stories (1981), Interlunar (1984) and Morning in the Burned House (1995).
Some of her novels have also been adapted for the cinema and the theatre, such as The Edible Woman (1969), The Handmaid?s Tale (1985) (also staged as an opera), Alias Grace (1996) and The Blind Assassin (2000). Her latest works include the novel Oryx and Crake (2003), the collection of short stories The Tent (2006), and the book of poetry The Door (2007). Ms. Atwood´s work has been published in more than thirty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian.
Winner of the 2000 Booker Prize, the highest award for literature in the English language, she has also received the Canadian Governor General?s Literary Award (1966 and 1986), the Canadian Booksellers Association Award (1977, 1989 and 1996), the Toronto Book Award (1977 and 1989), the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction (1986), the Welsh Arts Council International Writer?s Prize (UK, 1982), the Arthur C. Clarke Award (UK, 1987), the Canadian Authors? Association Novel of the Year (1993), the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence (UK, 1994), the Giller Prize (Canada, 1996), the Premio Mondello (Italy, 1997), the London Literature Award (1999) and the Crime Writers? Association Dashiell Hammett Award (USA, 2001). She has received honorary doctorates from several universities, such as Cambridge, Oxford, Leeds, Toronto and Montreal, is Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Literature, as well as a Companion of the Order of Canada. She has likewise been awarded the Order of Ontario and the Norwegian Order of Literary Merit and is a member of the Royal Society of Canada.
For her part, Atwood issued the following statement in Toronto today:
"I am thrilled and honoured to have been awarded this highly important prize. The Prince of Asturias Awards are not only a great tribute to literature, the humanities, and the sciences, but also to the universal project of building a sane, human society".

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One last thought: As an author who writes “mainstream” literature who doesn’t shy away from dipping her toe into s-f when it suits her, does that make Atwood one of the Children of a (Doris) Lessing God?

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