Becoming an author

Toronto: 1963-4

Atwood left Harvard in the summer of 1963 and took up a post with a Market Research company, meanwhile writing her first (unpublished) novel. During this time she became engaged to James (Jay) Ford, but the engagement was broken off within a few months. Atwood then started writing her novel The Edible Woman, set in Toronto: she wanted Canadian literature to be recognised.

Vancouver and Harvard: 1964-5

In September 1964 Atwood took up a post as a lecturer at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. Here she revised The Edible Woman and wrote notes for her novel Cat’s Eye, as well as writing a sequence of poems (published in 1966 as The Circle Game). In the summer of 1965 she travelled back to Toronto with her friend Jim Polk, before once more attending Harvard where she was studying for a Ph.D. (which in the end she never completed).

Marriage, moves and a prize: 1967-9

In June 1967 Atwood married Jim Polk, and moved to Montreal, where she took up a faculty post at Sir George Williams University. The following year she moved to Edmonton, Alberta, where Polk had taken up a teaching post, and Atwood herself was given a teaching post in the University of Alberta in September 1969. Meanwhile, Atwood’s poetry sequence The Circle Game, published in 1966, had won the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award in 1967.

Toronto again; public and private life: 1970-3

After travels in England and France, Atwood and Polk returned to Toronto in 1971 where she became Assistant Professor at York University, Toronto, teaching a course on ‘Canadian Women Writers’. In 1972 she published Survival - A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. She also published her novel Surfacing in 1972. Meanwhile, Polk and Atwood were gradually drifting apart, and they were divorced in 1973.

Life on the farm: 1973-6

During her time in Toronto in the 1970s, Atwood had met a writer called Graeme Gibson. Atwood and Gibson now began a relationship, and decided first to rent, then to buy, a farm north of Toronto, to which they moved in the autumn of 1973. Here they worked hard running the farm but Atwood continued to write; she published her next novel, Lady Oracle in 1976. That same year their baby, Eleanor Jess Atwood Gibson (known as Jess), was born.

Travels: 1977-8

The Queen Elizabeth IIIn 1977 the family travelled to Venice and England and the following year went on a short ‘world tour’ for six weeks, going to Paris, Tehran, Afghanistan, India and Australia. Later in 1978, they went on the liner Queen Elizabeth II to England and on to Edinburgh where Gibson had been invited as writer-in-residence.

Writing, worries and travels: 1979-84

In 1979 Atwood published her novel Life Before Man, but the same year Gibson was very ill with a perforated ulcer. The next year they moved back to Toronto, as Jess was to start school. In 1982 Atwood undertook a promotional tour in England and Scandinavia, and in 1983 they all went, with Atwood’s parents, on a trip to the Galapagos Islands. The following year Atwood, Gibson and Jess went to live for six months in Norfolk, England, where Jess attended a local school, but while they were there Carl Atwood suffered a stroke.