Whatever Happened to Peggy Atwood?

Originally published on Torontoist on August 4, 2011.

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Margaret Atwood’s high school yearbook; Clan Call, 1956–1957 edition.

As people continue to joke about Margaret Atwood running for mayor, we feel it is our duty as a responsible media outlet to scope out the potential candidate’s early influences. And so we bring you the above, from her high school yearbook. (We’d love to hear what “Peggy”’s “Reindeer Romp” jingle sounded like.)

It turns out that by the time she departed the halls of Leaside High, Atwood had decided that writing was in her future:

Up to 1956, I’d thought I was going to be a botanist, or, at the very least, a Home Economist…There was nothing at Leaside High School to indicate to me that writing was even a possibility for a young person in Canada in the twentieth century. We did study authors, it’s true, but they were neither Canadian nor alive…I contemplated journalism school; but women, I was told, were not allowed to write anything but obituaries and the ladies’ page; and although some of my critics seem to be under the impression that this is what I ended up writing, I felt that something broader was in order. University, in short, where I might at least learn to spell.

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Clan Call, 1957–1958 edition.

Atwood learned more than spelling via her scholarships. By the time she graduated from the University of Toronto in 1961, she had published her first collection of poetry, Double Persephone. With the release of her first novel, The Edible Woman, in 1969, Atwood was pursing her teenage quest to write “THE Canadian novel” in earnest. Library patrons can judge whether she achieved that goal.

Additional material from The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood edited by Coral Ann Howells (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

BEHIND THE SCENES

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How did I get my hands on these yearbooks?

I inherited them from my father, who was in grade 9 during Atwood’s final year. I’m guessing they had zero interaction.

While the grads received full-on profiles, younger students weren’t left out of the fun. In class photos, each kid got a one-liner. My dad’s was “Spends his English periods counting footprints on the ceiling.” Which is funny given (a) I recall him saying he despised one of his English teachers, (b) the massive library he would assemble, and (c) he wound up teaching English decades later.

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