“I think this one is quite special because the first free-standing literary essay that I wrote that was not for school was about Franz Kafka back in the 1950s,” Atwood told AFP.
“At that time I read not only his biography but all of his work and I remember it very well,” she added before receiving the $10,000 (8,500 euros) prize.
“He also of course in retrospect seemed quite prophetic, not only about the Nazi regime, but also about the behaviour of the USSR.”
“He was suppressed in this country by both of those regimes so for people interested in freedom of expression and openness in publication, he was an icon at that time,” Atwood said.
The 77-year-old Atwood’s prolific career, spanning decades, has included the publication of 17 novels, seven children’s books and nearly two dozen books of poetry.
“The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood’s best-known work about a totalitarian society, has inspired a film, a ballet, an opera and most recently, a television series starring Elizabeth Moss that swept last month’s Emmy Awards.
Published in 1985, the novel is often mentioned in the same breath as George Orwell’s “1984,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and other dystopian works of speculative fiction. It turned Atwood into a feminist icon.
Her other notable novels include “The Edible Woman” (1969), “Cat’s Eye” (1988), “The Robber Bride” (1993) and “Oryx and Crake” (2003).
In 2000, Atwood won the Booker Prize — Britain’s top literary award — for “The Blind Assassin.”
The Kafka Prize, named after the famous Prague-born writer of such 20th century classics as “The Trial”, “Metamorphosis” and “The Castle”, was first awarded by the Prague-based Franz Kafka society in 2001.
Previous winners include Japanese author Haruki Murakami, Israeli writer Amos Oz, US novelist Philip Roth, British playwright Harold Pinter, French poet Yves Bonnefoy and Czech playwright and former president Vaclav Havel.