Margaret Atwood: The Scribe of Change, Power, and Resilience

Evan Swensen
3 min readJan 24, 2024

Margaret Atwood once stated, “A word after a word after a word is power.” This declaration by the acclaimed Canadian author and poet underlines a fundamental truth: the act of writing is an accumulation of not just words but also power — the power to evoke, provoke, reveal, and change.

Margaret Atwood’s literary career has been nothing short of monumental. Her work spans decades and genres, with novels like The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake establishing her as a prophetic voice in contemporary literature. Her fiction often delves into themes of identity, sexuality, and power, all while dissecting societal structures with a razor-sharp critique.

Amid the tumultuous political climate of the 1960s, a young Atwood found solace and voice through her writing. During this era of personal and social upheaval, Atwood penned some of her earliest works. The struggle for a creative foothold in a male-dominated literary world did not deter her; instead, it fueled her determination to write. Atwood’s resilience is encapsulated in her approach to writing; she famously remarked, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” This ethos guided her through the initial hurdles of her career and became a mantra for her relentless output of groundbreaking work.

Another poignant chapter in Atwood’s life is her relationship with the natural world, which has profoundly influenced her writing. Her advocacy for environmental issues is a golden thread that weaves through her career. Atwood’s partnership with conservationist Graeme Gibson deepened her engagement with ecological activism. Their shared passion for the natural world is mirrored in Atwood’s speculative fiction, where she often explores the catastrophic intersection of human folly and environmental fragility.

Atwood’s influence extends far beyond literary circles. Her works have sparked global conversations about dystopian futures and women’s rights, with The Handmaid’s Tale emblematic of resistance against misogyny and authoritarianism. The novel, published in 1985, has seen a resurgence in relevance, especially with its adaptation into a critically acclaimed television series. Its protagonist’s iconic red cloak and white bonnet have transcended fiction, emerging as symbols of protest in women’s marches worldwide.

The impact of Atwood’s work has also reverberated through her native Canada. She has been a vocal advocate for Canadian literature, helping to establish the Writers’ Trust of Canada — a testament to her belief in the power of writing to foster a national identity and consciousness.

In summarizing Atwood’s legacy, one observes a tapestry rich with threads of social commentary, feminist advocacy, and environmental concern. Her writing has mirrored the zeitgeist and helped shape it, encouraging readers to question the world around them and imagine different realities. In doing so, Atwood has demonstrated that writing is not a passive act but a dynamic force that can alter the course of history and touch the core of our human experience.

To those who hold a pen, Atwood’s career is a clarion call to embrace the imperfect writing process. She exemplifies how each word penned is a step towards understanding the human condition and potentially a step towards changing the world.

We are invited to not only delve into Atwood’s expansive works but also consider the power of our own words. Whether through essays, stories, or poems, there is a potency in writing that can challenge, comfort, or inspire. Atwood’s journey is a reminder of the writer’s unique ability to capture life’s complexities and contribute to the ever-unfolding story of humanity.

As Margaret Atwood continues to contribute to the literary world, her words remain an enduring testament to the resilience and power of the written word. Her invitation is clear: Write. Reflect. Engage. Change. We may not all be Atwoods, but we each have a voice that can ripple through the fabric of society.

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Evan Swensen

Book publisher, editor, author, Author Masterminds charter member, founder of Readers and Writers Book Club, and bush pilot.