October 10, 2013 / 11:35 AM / 5 years ago

Alice Munro seen as master of the short story

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian writer Alice Munro, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, is an admitted short-story addict who has garnered international praise for her tales of the struggles, loves and tragedies of women in small-town Canada.

File photo of Canadian writer Alice Munro smiling at the end of the Giller awards ceremony in Toronto in this November 6, 2007. REUTERS/Mike Cassese/Files

She became the second Canadian-born writer to win the prize, although she is the first winner with a distinctly Canadian identity. Saul Bellow, who won the award in 1976, was born in Quebec, but raised in Chicago and is widely considered an American writer.

The 82-year-old Munro, who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 and was often mentioned as a Nobel contender, stands out in a literary world that tends to reward novels.

She told the Wall Street Journal in 2009, after winning the Man Booker prize, that she used to attempt to write novels but “didn’t get anywhere.”

“The novel would always break down about halfway through and I would lose interest in it, and it didn’t seem any good and I wouldn’t persist,” she told the paper.

Instead, she published a series of highly praised short story collections, beginning with 1968’s “Dance of the Happy Shades.”

In addition to the Man Booker, she has won the Giller Prize - Canada’s most high-profile literary award - twice, and has won Canada’s Governor General’s Award for fiction three times.

In 2009 she removed her collection “Too Much Happiness” from Giller consideration, saying she wanted to give younger, less-established authors an opportunity.

She was largely ignored early in her career by international audiences, but began building a reputation when her stories started getting published in the New Yorker magazine in the 1970s.

Her noted works include “Lives of Girls and Women” (1973), “The Love of a Good Woman” (1998) and “Runaway” (2004). A collection of her work, “Too Much Happiness: Stories,” was published in 2009.

Earlier this year, Munro, who in 2009 revealed she had undergone heart bypass surgery and had been treated for cancer, said she was retiring from writing.

She said the same thing in 2006, but went on to publish “Too Much Happiness” in 2009 and her most recent collection, “Dear Life,” in 2012.


Munro is known for her ability to develop characters fully in the expanse of a short story.

Comparing her to other writers, author Joyce Carol Oates described Munro’s stories in a New York Times review as having “the density - moral, emotional, sometimes historical - of other writers’ novels.”

Munro, Oates wrote, scripts “fictitious worlds that are mimetic paradigms of utterly real worlds yet are fictions, composed with so assured an art that it might be mistaken for artlessness.”

Munro has often explored the theme of girls coming of age in small-town Canada - a setting in which she grew up.

Born in Wingham, a small town in southwestern Ontario, in 1931 to a family of farmers, Munro’s other works include “Dance of the Happy Shades” (1968), “Who Do You Think You Are?” (1978), and “Open Secret” (1994), which won the W.H. Smith Award for the best book published in Britain in 1995.

Accepting a prize in 1998, she said she “can’t kick the habit” of writing short fiction.

Munro met her first husband at the University of Western Ontario and after two years, the two moved to Canada’s Pacific Coast. She returned to Ontario in 1972 and married Gerald Fremlin in 1976.

Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Doina Chiacu

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