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#840 Alice Munro makes the personal universal

By Cathryn Wellner / November 3, 2013
Alice Munro

Alice Munro at the 2009 International Festival of Authors; photo from video below

That tiny cheer heard around the world was a send-up from a large, sparsely populated country celebrating the first Canadian woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. In fact, the only other Canadian winner was Saul Bellow in 1976, but he was only Canadian by birth and had lived in the U.S. since he was a child.

Alice Munro, master of the contemporary short story, was awarded the 2013 prize at the age of 82. When CBC’s Adam Smith reached her by telephone shortly after the prize was announced, she said she hoped the award would bring more readers to short stories and added:

I hope this would happen not just for me but for the short story in general. Because it’s often sort of brushed off, you know, as something that people do before they write their first novel. And I would like it to come to the fore, without any strings attached, so that there doesn’t have to be a novel.

For those new to Alice Munro and wary of short stories, The New Yorker has made it possible to sample one of her stories, “Dimension”, online. It is vintage Munro, the characters so real, the details so evocative that the last, quiet yet stunning scene, feels like the close of a long, familiar story.

Describing her work, New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman told CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi:

Her work is very provincial in that it’s based in small towns and rural parts of Canada for the most part. At the same time, what she does with the characters in those places is show us their universality, their humanity.

That is the goal of every writer, to take a small slice of big, messy life and through the alchemy of words turn it into something readers can feel in their bones because it captures some essence of their experience. Alice Munro has been an alchemist for decades and has received numerous awards for it, including the 2009 Man Booker International Prize and Canada’s Governor General’s Award. The Nobel caps her career with recognition that will bring a whole new audience to this gifted Canadian writer, and that gives me hope.

Alice Munro’s conversation with Diana Athill took place at the 2009 International Festival of Authors.

This is Munro’s latest work.

Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood worked together to create this anthology of some of Munro’s best stories.

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