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Margaret Atwood

  • god is not / the voice in the whirlwind / god is the whirlwind / at the last / judgment we will all be trees.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Resurrection," The Journals of Susanna Moodie ()
  • If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia.

  • The answers you get from literature depend upon the questions you pose.

  • This above all, to refuse to be a victim.

  • Fear has a smell, as love does.

  • ... time is compressed like the fist I close on my knee ... I hold inside it the clues and solutions and the power for what I must do now.

  • A divorce is like an amputation; you survive, but there's less of you.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Time ()
  • Publishers are in business to make money, and if your books do well they don't care if you are male, female, or an elephant.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Dissecting the Way a Writer Works," in Graeme Gibson, Eleven Canadian Novelists ()
  • Elizabeth is old enough to know that one woman's demon lover is another's worn-out shoe.

  • A word after a word after a word is power.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Spelling," True Stories ()
  • I would like to be the air / that inhabits you for a moment / only. I would like to be that unnoticed / & that necessary.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Variation on the Word Sleep," True Stories ()
  • We still think of a powerful man as a born leader and a powerful woman as an anomaly.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Radcliffe Quarterly ()
  • ... poetry is where the language is renewed.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Alan Twigg, For Openers ()
  • I've never understood why people consider youth a time of freedom and joy. It's probably because they have forgotten their own.

  • Everyone thinks writers must know more about the inside of the human head, but that is wrong. They know less, that's why they write. Trying to find out what everyone else takes for granted.

  • Blank pages inspire me with terror.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Joyce Carol Oates, ed., First Person Singular: Writers on Their Craft ()
  • Repeat reading for me shares a few things with hot-water bottles and thumbsucking: comfort, familiarity, the recurrence of the expected.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in New Woman ()
  • [After a male friend said men were 'afraid women will laugh at them':] I asked some women ... 'Why do women feel threatened by men?' 'They're afraid of being killed,' they said.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Writing the Male Character," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose 1960-1982 ()
  • We yearned for the future. How did we learn it, that talent for insatiability?

  • ... nobody dies from lack of sex. It's lack of love we die from.

  • Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some.

  • I'm a refugee from the past, and like other refugees I go over the customs and habits of being I've left or been forced to leave behind me, and it all seems just as quaint, from here, and I am just as obsessive about it.

  • There are some women who seem to be born without fear, just as there are people who are born without the ability to feel pain. The painless ones go around putting their hands on hot stoves, freezing their feet to the point of gangrene, scalding the lining of their throats with boiling coffee, because there is no warning anguish. Evolution does not favour them. So too perhaps with the fearless women, because there aren't very many of them around. ... Providence appears to protect such women, maybe out of astonishment.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "The Whirlpool Rapids," Bluebeard's Egg ()
  • The truly fearless think of themselves as normal.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "The Whirlpool Rapids," Bluebeard's Egg ()
  • Gardening is not a rational act.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Unearthing Suite," Bluebeard's Egg ()
  • In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Unearthing Suite," Bluebeard's Egg ()
  • Show me a character totally without anxieties and I will show you a boring book.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Geoff Hancock, ed., Canadian Writers at Work ()
  • The facts of this world seen clearly are seen through tears.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Notes Towards a Poem That Can Never Be Written," Selected Poems II: 1976-1986 ()
  • All fathers ... are invisible in daytime; daytime is ruled by mothers. But fathers come out at night. Darkness brings home the fathers, with their real, unspeakable power. There is more to them than meets the eye.

  • An eye for an eye only leads to more blindness.

  • Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.

  • Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backwards in time and exist in two places at once.

  • ... I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don't look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.

  • ... another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.

  • For years I wanted to be older, and now I am.

  • We thought we were running away from the grownups, and now we are the grownups ...

  • ... for me the novel is a social vehicle, it reflects society.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Alan Twigg, Strong Voices: Conversations With Fifty Canadian Authors ()
  • The beginning of Canadian cultural nationalism was not 'Am I really that oppressed?' but 'Am I really that boring?'

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Earl G. Ingersoll, ed., Margaret Atwood: Conversations ()
  • Popular art is the dream of society; it does not examine itself.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Earl G. Ingersoll, ed., Margaret Atwood: Conversations ()
  • I'm interested in the Gothic novel because it's very much a woman's form. Why is there such a wide readership for books that essentially say, 'Your husband is trying to kill you'?

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Earl G. Ingersoll, ed., Margaret Atwood: Conversations ()
  • I tried for the longest time to find out what deconstructionism was. Nobody was able to explain it to me clearly. The best answer I got was from a writer, who said, 'Honey, it's bad news for you and me.'

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Earl G. Ingersoll, ed., Margaret Atwood: Conversations ()
  • I read for pleasure, and that is the moment at which I learn most. Subliminal learning.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Earl G. Ingersoll, ed., Margaret Atwood: Conversations ()
  • It's probably a form of childish curiosity that keeps me going as a fiction writer. I ... want to open everybody's bureau drawers and see what they keep in there. I'm nosy.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Earl G. Ingersoll, ed., Margaret Atwood: Conversations ()
  • He spoke of 'going in' the way she'd heard old veterans in TV documentaries speak of assaults on enemy territory. ... Except that what he would be going into was her body.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Hairball," Wilderness Tips ()
  • ... her mother was no longer there. Susanna did not think of it as a death, but as a fading away, like a pattern on washed cloth. It was the continuation of something that had been happening all her life anyway.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Uncles," Wilderness Tips ()
  • Their mothers had finally caught up to them and been proven right. There were consequences after all; but they were the consequences to things you didn't even know you'd done.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "The Age of Lead," Wilderness Tips ()
  • Knowledge is power only as long as you keep your mouth shut.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Weight," Wilderness Tips ()
  • Menopause. A pause while you reconsider men.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Weight," Wilderness Tips ()
  • There's something final about saying you were married once. It's like saying you were dead once. It shuts them up.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Weight," Wilderness Tips ()
  • Once a month I wake in the night, slippery with terror. I'm afraid, not because there's someone in the room, in the dark, in the bed, but because there isn't. I'm afraid of the emptiness, which lies beside me like a corpse.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Weight," Wilderness Tips ()
  • If you're a woman writer, sometime, somewhere, you will be asked: Do you think of yourself as a writer first, or as a woman first? Look out. Whoever asks this hates and fears both writing and women.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 2 ()
  • You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer, an almost physical nerve, the kind you need to walk a log across a river.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 2 ()
  • A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 2 ()
  • Life's not fair; why should I be?

  • From the kitchen she hears laughter; and the clatter of dishes. Charis is setting out the food, Roz is telling a story. That's what they will do, increasingly in their lives: tell stories.

  • War is what happens when language fails.

  • My favorite author's question of all time — because it's so simple to answer ... 'Is your hair really like that, or do you get it done?'

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • speech, American Booksellers Association convention ()
  • The short answer to 'Why do you write' is — I suppose I write for some of the same reasons I read: to live a double life; to go places I haven't been; to examine life on earth; to come to know people in ways, and at depths, that are otherwise impossible; to be surprised.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • speech, American Booksellers Association convention ()
  • Some part of me thought that I would always be teaching grammar to Engineering students at 8:30 in the morning. Forever. And don't think I didn't think of running away to be a waitress. I tried that and got very thin, because you're basically cleaning up other people's mushed-up dinners. This does not build up your appetite. Also, if you're a waitress rather than a waiter, people take a Mommy view of you, so you find yourself going, 'Aw, weren't your mashed potatoes good? Maybe you would like some different ones?' If you're a waiter of course, you just sneer. But then, that's changed too. Now you have to say, 'Hello, my name is Bob. I'm your waitperson for today.' Miss Manners doesn't approve of this. She doesn't think that the waitperson should have to establish a first-name relationship with a customer. I'm with Miss Manners, who I feel is the reincarnation of Jane Austen.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • interview, Toronto Council of Teachers of English ()
  • Some travelers think they want to go to foreign places but are dismayed when the places turn out actually to be foreign.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Mitchell Smith, "Dry-Land Sailors Scupper Plan to Bring Drake Home," Toronto Star ()
  • ... it's a feature of our times that if you write a work of fiction, everyone assumes that the people and events in it are disguised biography — but if you write your biography, it's assumed you're lying your head off.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Under the Thumb," in This Magazine ()
  • The road to death is a lonely highway, and longer than it apears, even when it leads straight down from the scaffold, by way of a rope; and it's a dark road, with never any moon shining on it, to light your way.

  • Oppression involves a failure of the imagination: the failure to imagine the full humanity of other human beings.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Amnesty International: An Address" (1981), Second Words: Selected Critical Prose 1960-1982 ()
  • Being edited is like falling face down into a threshing machine.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "The Rocky Road to Paper Heaven," Internet "sermon" ()
  • Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like paté.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Authors Guild Bulletin ()
  • If I were going to convert to any religion I would probably choose Catholicism because it at least has female saints and the Virgin Mary.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Earl G. Ingersoll, Waltzing Again: New and Selected Conversations With Margaret Atwood ()
  • If you disagree with your government, that's political. If you disagree with your government that is approaching theocracy, then you're evil.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • interview with Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers on Faith and Reason ()
  • When I was 16 I started publishing all kinds of things in school magazines. My main feedback came from my English teacher, Miss Bessie B. Billings, who said, 'I can't understand this at all, dear, so it must be good.'

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in O: The Oprah Magazine ()
  • If I waited for perfection ... I would never write a word.

    • Margaret Atwood
  • A war is a huge fire; the ashes from it drift far, and settle slowly.

  • Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence.

  • Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.

  • ... she would have been wearing: a shirtwaist with a small rounded collar, in a sober colour — navy blue or steel grey or hospital-corridor green. Penitential colours — less like something she'd chosen to put on than like something she'd been locked up in.

  • In the evenings there's been thunder, a distant bumping and stumbling, like God on a sullen binge.

  • ... Reenie never went in much for God. There was mutual respect, and if you were in trouble naturally you'd call on him, as with lawyers; but as with lawyers, it would have to be bad trouble.

  • Nothing is more difficult than to understand the dead, I've found; but nothing is more dangerous than to ignore them.

  • ... making final judgements about poets, cities or regions on the basis of an anthology is always dangerous: anthologies are mirages created, finally, by their editors.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "The Messianic Stance," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • The truth, it seems, is not just what you find when you open a door: it is itself a door, which the poet is always on the verge of going through.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Adrienne Rich: Diving Into the Wreck," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • Laughter may instruct but it may also conceal, defending the joker against anger and retaliation: a game is only a game.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Erica Jong: Half-Lives," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • A suicide is both a rebuke to the living and a puzzle that defies them to solve it. Like a poem, suicide is finished and refuses to answer questions as to its final cause.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • It's a critical fallacy of our times ... that a writer should 'grow,' 'change,' or 'develop.' This fallacy causes us to expect from children or radishes: 'grow,' or there's something wrong with you. But writers are not radishes. If you look at what most writers actually do, it resembles a theme with variations more than it does the popular notion of growth.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Valgardsonland: Red Dust," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • I did ... learn an important distinction in graduate school: a speculation about who had syphilis when is gossip if it's about your friends, a plot element if it's about a character in a novel, and scholarship if it's about John Keats.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Witches," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • We still think of a powerful woman as an anomaly, a potentially dangerous anomaly ...

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Witches," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • When a man is attacked in print, it's usually for saying what he says; when a woman is attacked in print, it's often for being who she is.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Witches," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • Reading ... changes you. You aren't the same person after you've read a particular book as you were before, and you will read the next book, unless both are Harlequin Romances, in a slightly different way.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "An End to Audience?" Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • It is my contention that the process of reading is part of the process of writing, the necessary completion without which writing can hardly be said to exist.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "An End to Audience?" Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • If you want to be a writer, you should go into the largest library you can find and stand there contemplating the books that have been written. Then you should ask yourself, 'Do I really have anything to add?' If you have the arrogance or the humility to say yes, you will know you have the vocation.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "An End to Audience?" Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • ... art happens. It happens when you have the craft and the vocation and are waiting for something else, something extra, or maybe not waiting; in any case it happens. It's the extra rabbit coming out of the hat, the one you didn't put there.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "An End to Audience?" Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • The goals of the feminist movement have not been achieved, and those who claim we're living in a post-feminist era are either sadly mistaken or tired of thinking about the whole subject.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "An Introduction to The Edible Woman," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • I'm a novelist, and idle speculation is what novelists do. How odd to spend one's life trying to pretend that non-existent people are real: though no odder, I suppose, than what government bureaucrats do, which is trying to pretend that real people are non-existent.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Canadian-American Relations: Surviving the Eighties," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • Americans don't usually have to think about Canadian-American relations, or, as they would put it, American-Canadian relations. Why think about something which you believe affects you so little? We, on the other hand, have to think about you whether we like it or not.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Canadian-American Relations: Surviving the Eighties," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • Canadians and Americans may look alike, but the contents of their heads are quite different. Americans experience themselves, individually, as small toads in the biggest and most powerful puddle in the world. Their sense of power comes from identifying with the puddle. Canadians as individuals may have more power within the puddle, since there are fewer toads in it; it's the puddle that's seen as powerless.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Canadian-American Relations: Surviving the Eighties," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • Powerlessness and silence go together. We ... should use our privileged positions not as a shelter from the world's reality, but as a platform from which to speak. A voice is a gift. It should be cherished and used.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Amnesty International: An Address" (1981), in Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it.

  • A non-event ... is better to write about than an event, because with a non-event you can make up the meaning yourself, it means whatever you say it means.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Loulou, or, The Domestic Life of the Language," Bluebeard's Egg ()
  • ... stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results ...

  • Literature is not only a mirror; it is a map, a geography of the mind.

  • What fabrications they are, mothers. Scarecrows, wax dolls for us to stick pins into, crude diagrams. We deny them an existence of their own, we make them up to suit ourselves — our own hungers, our own wishes, our own deficiencies.

  • Potential has a shelf-life.


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  • If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.

    • Margaret Atwood
  • February, month of despair, / with a skewered heart in the centre. / I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries / with a splash of vinegar.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "February," Morning in the Burned House ()

Margaret Atwood, Canadian writer, poet

(1939)

Full name: Margaret Eleanor Atwood.