Photography by Liam Sharp
This fall, Margaret Atwood launches two new books—a reimagining of Shakespeare's The Tempest and her first-ever graphic novel—and proves that she's one of the most versatile authors working today.
When it comes to Canadian literary treasure Margaret Atwood, only one thing is certain: She knows how to keep us guessing. For 2016, she has two new offerings that couldn't be more different from each other. First, there's her graphic novel, Angel Catbird, which is the story of Strig Feleedus, a scientist who is hit by a car while trying to rescue his cat and becomes half cat, half bird with superpowers. Pair that with her second launch, Hag-Seed, a retelling of William Shakespeare's The Tempest in novel form, and we're amazed by her ability to work in any genre and format she chooses. And that's what we love about her; we never know what to expect, but we're always pleasantly surprised.
Though a graphic novel may seem like a bizarre departure for the 77-year-old author, Atwood has been drawing since she was a young girl, and the concept for Angel Catbird first sprang from her sketches of cats with wings when she was six. More recently, she's inspired by her interest in bird conservation; migratory-songbird numbers are in major decline due to several factors, including free-roaming feral and domestic cats. Atwood, once a dedicated cat owner, knew she wanted to write a comic to teach readers the importance of keeping songbirds and cats safe, so she contacted Nature Canada, which supplied the statistics found in banners on the book's pages. She hopes that the comic will reach readers both old and young; her dream is to have an Angel Catbird mascot visit schools, "complete with wings and a tail."
When it came to Hag-Seed, The Hogarth Shakespeare Project approached Atwood with the concept of revisiting Shakespeare's plays as novels in honour of the 400th anniversary of his death. "I was early on in the asking process, so I nabbed The Tempest before anyone else could," she says. (Seven other authors, including Jeanette Winterson and Gillian Flynn, chose productions such as The Winter's Tale and Hamlet, respectively.) "The Tempest is one of my favourite plays. It has a lot of unanswered questions, so I really had to grapple with it."
Her version is set in a men's prison as a team of inmates stages a videotaped version of the play with the help of a famous disgraced director. Though the plot is based on the Shakespeare classic, with its hilariously ill-matched group of characters and its meditation on imprisonment (whether physical or self-constructed), it somehow manages to be a retelling that only Margaret Atwood could dream up.
No matter what she's working on, Atwood prefers to keep her writing projects a secret—even from her publishers—until they're completely finished. "People don't understand a lot of my ideas until I do them," she says. "If I try to explain, they say, 'What are you thinking?' " When asked how she expects everyone will react toward the diverse natures of her newest debuts, she says, "All my life, it's been, 'What are they going to think?' Who cares?!" You tell 'em, Margaret.
Q&A with author Margaret Atwood