Imagining beyond extinctathon: indigenous knowledge, survival, speculation - Margaret Atwood's and Ann Patchett's eco-Gothic

Gina Wisker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Both Margaret Atwood and Ann Patchett engage with issues concerning indigenous knowledge, biodiversity and survival. Margaret Atwood constructs a form of wilderness Gothic in Surfacing (1972) and Survival (1972), while in her darker eco-Gothic texts, The Handmaid's Tale (1985) and the MaddAddam trilogy (Oryx and Crake, 2003; The Year of the Flood, 2009; MaddAddam, 2013), she focuses on survival post holocaust. In her work she is influenced by indigenous knowledge and the awareness of imminent disaster should people fall out of harmony with nature, a threat enacted in these Canadian eco-Gothic dystopian fictions. This threat of extinction, of natural disaster based on arrogantly, deliberately or accidentally ignoring the importance of ecological diversity and of balance, of contestation, different voices and ways of being informs much of Atwood's work throughout her writing career and her everyday life. It is also of interest to many other women writers, including Ann Patchett from the US (State of Wonder, 2011), Alexis Wright from Australia (The Swan Book, 2013), Patricia Grace from New Zealand, (Baby No-Eyes, 1998), and Nalo Hopkinson from Jamaica/Toronto ("A Habit of Waste", 2001), each of whom engages with forms of indigenous knowledge, and recognizes the importance of diversity, exploring threats to survival and suggesting ways forward, and several of whom (including Patchett) evidence Atwood's influence on a younger generation of women writers. I should like to link Atwood's work to that of Ann Patchett, specifically her novel State of Wonder, which problematizes the involvement of non-indigenous people with the tribal behaviours, beliefs, and richness of the forest and jungle worlds in which they live in a balanced harmony.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)412-431
Number of pages20
JournalContemporary Women's Writing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Contemporary Women's Writing following peer review. The version of record Gina Wisker; Imagining Beyond Extinctathon: Indigenous Knowledge, Survival, Speculation – Margaret Atwood’s and Ann Patchett’s Eco-Gothic, Contemporary Women's Writing, Volume 11, Issue 3, 31 December 2017, Pages 412–431 is available online at:


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