Alice Munro, Master

By Deborah Jones

F&O Munro discard
Alice Munro (Publisher handout. Photo copyright Derek Shapton © 2013)

Alice Munro, “master of the contemporary short story,” is the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, the organization announced.

The Canadian writer, who at 82 claimed early this year that she had retired – really, this time –  was born in Ontario and lived most of her life in the kind of small Central Canadian towns where she set her short stories. She spent some years on Canada’s West Coast, and opened a book store with her first husband Jim Munro in Victoria, Munro Books – which this year marked its 50th anniversary.

Following her previous declarations of retirement, Munro continued to craft stories and publish books. But after a bout of health problems and the death last spring of her second husband, Gerald Fremlin, she said firmly that she would stop writing, and get out and about in her community. She also told a writer from the New York Times she had stopped worrying about aging – a preoccupation of many of her stories. “There’s nothing you can do about it, and it’s better than being dead. I feel that I’ve done what I wanted to do, and that makes me feel fairly content.”

The Nobel organization said of her work:

Munro is primarily known for her short stories and has published many collections over the years. Her works include Who Do You Think You Are? (1978), The Moons of Jupiter (1982), Runaway (2004), The View from Castle Rock (2006) and Too Much Happiness (2009). The collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001) became the basis of the film Away from Her from 2006, directed by Sarah Polley. Her most recent collection is Dear Life (2012).

Munro is acclaimed for her finely tuned storytelling, which is characterized by clarity and psychological realism. Some critics consider her a Canadian Chekhov. Her stories are often set in small town environments, where the struggle for a socially acceptable existence often results in strained relationships and moral conflicts – problems that stem from generational differences and colliding life ambitions. Her texts often feature depictions of everyday but decisive events, epiphanies of a kind, that illuminate the surrounding story and let existential questions appear in a flash of lightning. 

F&O Munro book
Dear Life, Alice Munro’s latest book

Munro is the daughter of a school teacher mother and  fox farmer father, and the mother of three daughters (of whom two survive). She was born in an age when women, and in particular women from rural Canada, were discouraged from standing in the spotlight. Last year she told her fiction editor at the New Yorker – which published many of her stories – “I was brought up to believe that the worst thing you could do was “call attention to yourself,” or ‘think you were smart.'”

Times changed, for Canadian women and for Munro.

Copyright © 2013 Deborah Jones







Further reading:

Alice Munro biography on her page at Penguin, her publisher