Even if you’ve never read or watched the Emmy-winning, shot-in-Ontario saga The Handmaid’s Tale, you probably know by cultural osmosis that its author, Margaret Eleanor Atwood is a Canadian treasure, feminist icon and one of the coolest people on the planet who happens to be turning 80 on November 18 and is still killing it.
In honour of the revered literary legend and activist extraordinaire, we’re gathering up all the reasons she’s one of the most iconic figures we’ve got and has been doing it for a long time. Fair warning: we’re gonna get a little fangirly.
1. She was a self-published author by 22
What were you doing at the age of 22? While you may have been approaching a quarterlife crisis, Margaret Atwood was publishing her first poetry collection, Double Persephone with her own two hands.
2. She’s good at literally every kind of creative writing
She’s known for her novels, but Peggy has wayyy more to her name than just Handmaid’s and The Testaments. She’s published 16 novels, eight short stories, eight children’s books, 17 poetry collections, 10 works of non-fiction and a graphic novel. She’s also edited several anthologies, written for TV and radio and turned one of her novels (The Penelopiad) into a play.
3. She’s won, like, all the awards
Her site breaks down her awards by decade which is a seriously baller move, but allow us to summarize this way: she’s won pretty much every award that matters in literature and some for TV. She’s got the Governor General’s Award (X4), the Order of Canada, the Booker Prize, a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and dozens of other local and national awards from across North America. She was also nominated for an Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale in 2018 and won a Canadian Screen Award, PGA Award and USC Scripter Award for the show.
To top it all off, she was Glamour’s Woman of the Year in 2019. In her speech, she said: “I’m often asked what words of encouragement I might have for young women especially at this moment… What’s encouraging to me is seeing how women come together—in journalism, to research and expose abuses; in business, to invent their own companies; in politics, to defend and to extend democracy; and in health and welfare, to help other women around the world.”
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) October 14, 2019
4. Oh, she’s also an inventor
Did we mention Margaret Atwood has created more than entire fictional words and is a legit inventor? She created The Long Pen, which is a robot arm that can replicate a person’s signature when they write it on a digital pad remotely. She uses the tech for book tours so she can sign copies of her books anywhere in the world. Seriously, is there anything this woman can’t do?
5. She burned Seth Meyers simply because she could
When you’re a guest on a late-night TV show, it’s sometimes polite to let little mistakes go unnoticed, but when Seth Meyers said that it was the year 2016, when it was in fact 2019, Margaret wasn’t about to let that go. She also got shady about the 2016 election. And that’s how to stay hip with the kids.
6. Even the Queen thinks she’s the best
That’s right—the Great Margaret Atwood is so iconic that even Queen Elizabeth II is shouting her praises. She made Atwood a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to literature, which is super long and fancy title that basically means, “even the Queen thinks Atwood’s lit is lit.”
We don’t know what was said in their meeting at the Palace, but we can only imagine the Queen, being a woman who likes her fashion, complimented Margaret on her hat and scarf combo. Game recognize game.
Congratulations, Dr. Atwood🎖👏 pic.twitter.com/F61nWTDzYi
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) October 25, 2019
7. She’s been an activist since the dawn of time
It’s encouraged to be an activist in 2019 and stand up for your beliefs, but back in the 1980s, it was a bit trickier, especially for women. That didn’t stop Margaret from focusing on complex feminist social issues in her work and speaking out against injustices like U.S. intervention in El Salvador in 1981.
Now she’s focused on climate change, global women’s rights and getting out the vote.
Q. for math whizzes: If all people died at once, how much C02 and methane would be released? Are we a giant carbon sink? Just wondering..
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) August 21, 2010
8. She’s a Harvard drop-out with 26 honorary degrees
Margaret finished her master’s degree at Harvard, but abandoned her doctoral thesis after two years. Since then, she’s taught at several universities in North America and received dozens of honorary doctorates and degrees from such schools as Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the U.K. and McMaster, Queens, Ryerson, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and more in Canada.
9. Her 40-year relationship was super sweet
Margaret’s long-time partner, Graeme Gibson, sadly passed away after a battle with dementia in September, but the couple has been near inseparable since the 1970s. By all accounts from Atwood herself and other sources, Gibson was a loving and supportive partner—much appreciated by the fiercely independent Atwood. She told The Telegraph in 2013, “He’s pretty good—he mostly just keeps out of the way. And I don’t show him my books before they’re in print. I recommend it.”
Gibson was also a writer and they share daughter Eleanor Atwood Gibson (now 43). The couple was highly active in conservation efforts together and enjoyed birdwatching when they weren’t busy writing or saving the world. Margaret also once gave Graeme a T-shirt that said “Every woman writer should be married to Graeme Gibson.” Icon.
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10. She wrote a rock song about Frankenstein’s Monster
The woman WROTE A ROCK SONG. In 2004, Margaret wrote the lyrics to “Frankenstein Monster Song” for the band One Ring Zero. The song, in classic literature nerd fashion (which is meant as high praise), is about the book version of Frankenstein’s Monster which focuses on how Dr. Frankenstein is the real bad guy. We could attach our essay, but we’ll refrain.
11. She once suited up as a goalie for Rick Mercer
She’s a Canadian icon, so of course, she can put on some skates and hit the rink. Back in 2005, she suited up as a goalie for a segment on The Rick Mercer Report. She gave aspiring players a quick tutorial in Goalkeeping 101. Because she’s Margaret Atwood and she can.
12. Her Instagram is fire
Speaking of staying hip, Margaret is possibly better at Insta than most Millennials. She’s got everything from knitting your grandma would post to behind the scenes shots to baking appreciation. Our personal favourite is this perfect flex where she’s wearing her own merch.
Happy Birthday, you iconic queen, you!