Luminary, eccentric, intellectual, a cool cat and creative wizard: there are a myriad of wonderful ways to describe Margaret Atwood. The bestselling author has been giving Canada a good name on the international stage since she penned her first novel, The Edible Women, back in 1969. It’s obvious that she’d make Toronto Life‘s Most Influential list, as she’s been influencing wowing us since we were precocious teens hooked on Cat’s Eye.

From “hobbling” in ravines to getting comfortable with our imperfections, Margaret Atwood doses out frank, funny and smart life advice. (Side note: How amazing is that photo of her and Dolly? Two of our all-time favourite women rocking out glorious 80s hair.)

Margaret, we love you. Do tell us some secrets.

What’s on your current to-do list?

Top of the list is finishing my manuscript for The Hogarth Shakespeare Project – a number of authors were asked to choose a play and then revisit it in the form of a prose novel. I chose The Tempest. So many questions, so many possibilities! (Who was Caliban’s dad?)

What part of your routine do you consider essential for your mental health?

I’m so happy you think I have a routine! I’m so happy you think I have mental health! That aside: I have a virtual routine, which never gets completely actualized. In real life, it’s “Try to write three pages a day, whenever, however.” Even that doesn’t always happen. The mental health: Mother was right: Go for a walk. I try to totter 10,000 steps a day. (I have a step counter, but sometimes I cheat by jumping up and down.)

Which places in Toronto inspire and comfort you?

The ravines. I used to run around in them as a child. Though warned about the Bad Men down there and ordered not to go into the storm sewers, we kids did it anyway. Now I hobble about in the same ravines, which are more overgrown, and I can’t go into the storm sewers because there are gratings. They’ve done a lovely job with the Brick Works, by the way.

What change would you like to see in our city?

I’d love to see a blackout at night in tall glass buildings during bird migration, spring and fall. Birds get very confused by the lights, and fly around and around until they exhaust themselves. Turning out the lights would save on electricity and emissions.

In your opinion, who or what in our city currently deserves a spotlight?

It’s time once again for some Library Love. Next to New York City, Toronto has the most used library system in North America. People of all sorts avail themselves of it. When it isn’t being actively menaced, we can take it for granted. Write your councilor to make sure it keeps being funded at the level Toronto deserves.

What does perfection look like to you?

Perfection is a trap. Revel in the imperfectly perfect. “There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen. (No, no. I didn’t say “Some crack.” Don’t be naughty.)

Toronto Life’s Most Influential issue is now available for purchase. Learn from the city’s top leaders, in every discipline.


Photo by Jean Malek, 2013