Canadian Alice Munro, 'master of the short story,' wins Nobel literature prize

82-year-old says she hopes award "would make people see the short story as an important art."

By REUTERS
October 10, 2013 15:55
4 minute read.
Alice Munro

alice munro 370. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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STOCKHOLM/TORONTO - Canadian Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday for her tales of the struggles, loves and tragedies of women in small-town Canada that made her what the award-giving committee called the "master of the contemporary short story".

"Some critics consider her a Canadian Chekhov," the Swedish Academy said, comparing her to the 19th-century Russian short story writer in a statement on its website.

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Munro, in a phone interview with Canadian CBC Television, said she hoped the award "would make people see the short story as an important art; not just something you played around with until you get a novel written".

The 82-year-old, who revealed in 2009 that she had undergone coronary bypass surgery and been treated for cancer, said however that she did not think winning the prize would change her decision announced early this year to stop writing.

"You know, I was always thrilled at whatever came along - like if I got published, I was thrilled. I still am, in a way," she told the CBC.

The short story, a style more popular in the 19th and early 20th century, has long taken a back seat to the novel in popular tastes. Short stories tend to be set in a more concentrated time frame with a more limited number of characters.

Munro's merit, in the eyes of her admirers, was to introduce into the her stories a richness of plot and depth of detail usually more characteristic of novels.



EPIPHANIES

Munro started writing stories in her teens. She is mainly known for her short stories and has published many collections over the years. Her works include "The View from Castle Rock" in 2006 and "Too Much Happiness" three years later.

She becomes the second Canadian-born writer to win the prize, although she is the first winner to be thought of as distinctly Canadian. Saul Bellow, who won the award in 1976, was born in Quebec but raised in Chicago and is widely considered an American writer.

"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," the Nobel Academy said in appraising Munro.

Munro, who was awarded the prize of 8 million crowns ($1.25 million by the committee, lives in Clinton, not far from her childhood home in southwestern Ontario, Canada. She is known to be averse to publicity and rarely gives interviews.

The literature prize is the fourth of this year's crop of prizes, which were established in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and awarded for the first time in 1901.

SHORT STORY VERSUS NOVEL

American author Joyce Carol Oates, writing in 2009 in the New York Review of Books, said of Munro:

"Of writers who have made the short story their metier, and whose accumulated work constitutes entire fictional worlds... Alice Munro is the most consistent in style, manner, content, vision.

"Munro has...concentrated upon provincial, even back country lives, in tales of domestic tragicomedy that seemed to open up, as if by magic, into wider, deeper, vaster dimensions."

Munro herself spoke of the phenomenon of the short story and its place in the shadows of the novel in an interview with the New York Times in July. Her short stories, because of their richness, have often been called 'novels in miniature'; a notion she rejects.

"While working on my first five books, I kept wishing I was writing a novel," she said.

"I thought until you wrote a novel, you weren't taken seriously as a writer. It used to trouble me a lot, but nothing troubles me now, and besides there has been a change. I think short stories are taken more seriously now than they were."

American author Joyce Carol Oates, writing in 2009 in the New York Review of Books, said of Munro:

"Of writers who have made the short story their metier, and whose accumulated work constitutes entire fictional worlds... Alice Munro is the most consistent in style, manner, content, vision.

"Munro has...concentrated upon provincial, even back country lives, in tales of domestic tragicomedy that seemed to open up, as if by magic, into wider, deeper, vaster dimensions."

Munro herself spoke of the phenomenon of the short story and its place in the shadows of the novel in an interview with the New York Times in July. Her short stories, because of their richness, have often been called 'novels in miniature'; a notion she rejects.

"While working on my first five books, I kept wishing I was writing a novel," she said.

"I thought until you wrote a novel, you weren't taken seriously as a writer. It used to trouble me a lot, but nothing troubles me now, and besides there has been a change. I think short stories are taken more seriously now than they were."

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