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A younger male writer crosses swords with Margaret Atwood


Over on Twitter, I find myself arguing with Margaret Atwood. When I mentioned that I am proud to be part of The Atwood Generation, she objected: "Now Ken. You are WAY younger than me!" Yes, I am younger. But future scholars will talk of The Atwood Generation of Canadian writers as comprising those born 15 or 20 years before or after the warrior queen herself. I suggested as much in my 2013 book 50 Canadians Who Changed the World.  First, I launched a section on Artists (painters, writers, and film-makers) with a quick look at Atwood in action on the global stage. . . .  


Speaking in Jerusalem while accepting the Dan David Prize for Literature, Margaret Atwood noted that writers are easy to attack because they don’t have armies and can’t retaliate. She and Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh, with whom she shared the $1 million award, had “both received a number of letters,” she said, “urging and indeed ordering us not to attend, on the grounds that anything connected with Israel is tabu.”
Those letters “have ranged from courteous and sad,” she added, “to factual and practical, to accusatory, outrageous, and untrue in their claims and statements; some have been frankly libelous, and even threatening. Some [of the correspondents] have been willing to listen to us, others have not: they want our supposedly valuable ‘names,’ but not our actual voices.” In other words, Atwood said, “the all-or-nothings want to bully us into being their wholly owned puppets. The result of such a decision on our part would be – among other things – to turn us into sticks with which to beat other artists into submission, and that we refuse to do.”
The Dan David Prize for the Present, as distinct from those prizes awarded for the Past and the Future, was ear-marked in 2010 for “an outstanding author whose work provides vivid, compelling, and ground-breaking depictions of 20th-century life, rousing public discussion and inspiring fellow writers.” Atwood was cited specifically for enabling “the emergence of a defined Canadian identity while exploring . . . issues such as colonialism, feminism, structures of political power and oppression, and the violation and exploitation of nature.”
. . . As an artist, and more specifically a writer, Margaret Atwood is more politicized than most, and also more politically effective. Here in Canada, she long ago established herself as the Warrior Queen of Canadian Literature. Globally, as we see from her words and actions in Jerusalem, Atwood remains fearless. She defends the diminishing space afforded to art in the broad sense -- the psychological space an artist, writer, or film-maker requires to work. . . .
Later in the book, in a chapter about Atwood, I wrote:
As a novelist, poet, essayist, and, indeed, activist, Margaret Atwood is a global figure. She has published more than fifty acclaimed books and won a still greater number of awards, including prizes from France, Germany, Ireland and the United States, as well as the Booker Prize (she was shortlisted five times), the Giller Prize, and two Governor-General’s Awards (she has been a finalist seven times). Here in Canada, Atwood has been doing cutting-edge work for decades. Her influence is so far-reaching that, in the minds of many, she leads a generation of writers: the Atwood Generation. . . .

The image above is from 1999: Atwood walking the picket line at the Calgary Herald.
And with that, the younger writer rests his case.

Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.

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