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Alice Munro - a Canadian writer and 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature winner

Updated on October 11, 2013
Alice Munro, 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature winner.
Alice Munro, 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature winner. | Source

Honors Received:

1992 Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters

1993 Royal Society of Canada's Lorne Pierce Medal

2005 Medal of Honor for Literature from the U.S. National Arts Club

2010 Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters

Alice Munro 1931 -

The Nobel Prize committee has chosen Canadian Anne Munro as winner of its ultimate prize of literature because they have found her to be the "master of the contemporary short story" and for her lifetime body of collection of short stories. It is wonderful that solely a short story writer has won the Noble Prize in Literature.

Most of her stories are about Canada and are set in her native southwestern Ontario. Her stories also explore human complexities and look into the deep emotions and feelings of her characters.

Ironically, Munro once said, "I wrote short stories while waiting to write a novel and realized short stories were all that I could write."

Her short stories have been described by critics as similar to reading a novel because of the depths and truths they illustrate. Critic Alex Keegan has said, "In most Munro stories there is as much as in many novels."

She has been described as Canada's "Chekhov" because her short stories are like his because the plot is secondary and little happens.

What becomes so important in Munro's short stories is the moment of epiphany which is discovered by her characters in concise, subtle, revealing detail. Her stories deal with love and work and the failings of both.

She shares Chekhov's obsession with time, and her characters' inability to delay or prevent its relentless passage and movement forward. Her earlier short stories have a common theme of the dilemmas of a girl coming of age and coming to terms with her family and the small provincial town where she grew up.

In Munro's later stories, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001) and Runaway (2004), her focus changes to the problems of middle age, of a woman alone and of the elderly. In these stories she reveals the ambiguities of life with a look at the "ironic and serious" at the same time.

In her particular style of writing her characters always experience some sort of revelation that sheds light on their situation and gives meaning to that situation. She holds a magnifying glass to the parts of life that are in bad taste, that are heartless, and that also are joyful.

Critic Robert Thacker has said she writes "of just being a human being." She places the fantastic next to the ordinary, with each undercutting the other, and without effort evoke life.

Munroe on the farm.
Munroe on the farm. | Source

Away from Her

Early life

Alice Munro was born in Ontario, Canada to Robert and Anne Laidlaw. Her father was a fox and mink farmer and her mother was a school teacher. She grew up on the farm and this has always been her preference for living.

She began writing as a teenager and published her first story, "The Dimensions of a Shadow," in 1950 while studying English at the University of Western Ontario. During her university years she worked as a waitress, a tobacco picker and a library clerk to raise money for her tuition.

She left the university in 1951 to marry James Munroe and the couple moved to Victoria in 1963. While living there they opened "Munro's Books", a bookstore which is still open and operating today. The couple had three daughters.

Munroe published her first collection of short stories in 1968 with "Dance of the Happy Shades (1968) and won the Govenor General's Award, Canada's highest literary prize. She went on to publish "Lives of Girls and Women" (1971) a collection of interlinked stories.

Alice and James divorced in 1972 and she returned to Ontario to become Writer-in-Residence at the University of Western Ontario. She married Gerald Fremlin in 1976 and moved to a farm outside of Clinton, Ontario and later to a house in Clinton where Fremlin died in April 2013.

She won her second Govenor General's Award for her next collection of interlinked stories, "Who Do You Think You Are? (1978).

Then, from 1979-80, she toured Australia, China and Scandinavia. When she returned she became Writer-in-Residence at both the University of British Columbia and the University of Queensland.

In the 1980's and 90's, she published a collection of short stories about once every four years. Her stories have appeared in such illustrious publications as, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Grand Street, Mademoiselle, and The Paris Review.

Her short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," was adapted to film and directed by Sarah Polley under the name, Away from Her. It premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival and it was then nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay only for the award, sadly, to be given to No Country for Old Men.

Away from Her, brings to film Monro's sad, poignant love story of a woman with alzheimers passing in and out of the past and present, and falling in love with a man at the nursing home as her husband of 45 years sadly and heartbrokenly watches. Munro's play with time is shattered as the husband tries desperately to shake his wife back to present reality and to prevent himself from loosing her and her love.

Munro announced in October 2009 that she had received treatment for cancer and a heart condition and later had bypass surgery, and at this time said she was retiring from writing. Fortunately retirement did not last long and she picked up her pen to write again, saying, "I had thought of something more to write."

A scene from the film adaption of Munro's story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain,"  The film's title was "Away from Her." (2006)
A scene from the film adaption of Munro's story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," The film's title was "Away from Her." (2006) | Source

Munro's short story collections:

Dance of the Happy Shades 1968

Lives of Girls and Women 1972

Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You 1974

Who Do You Think You Are? 1978

The Moons of Jupiter 1982

The Progress of Love 1986

Friend of My Youth 1990

Open Secrets 1994

The Love of a Good Woman 1998

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage 2001

Runaway 2004

The View from Castle Rock 2006

Too Much Happiness 2009

Dear Life 2012


Munro's writing style and writings

The majority of Munroe's short stories are set in Huron County, Ontario and this strong regional focus is one of the main features of her fiction. She also writes in the omniscient narrator point of view which serves to make sense of the world of small-town settings and with the complexity of her female characters. Her work is an example of the literary genre known as Southwestern Ontario Gothic.

Munro has the uncanny ability to write what the reader is thinking. The reader is drawn into and see's someone else's visions as their own. This is one of the pleasures of reading a Munro short story. She brings forth an empathy so perfect that it is nearly undetectable. Munro is a writer of fearlessness and at times fearsome ambition.

Her stories depict bastions of domesticity as her female characters sew, cook and bake. This domesticity is contrasted by the need of some of her female characters to seek freedom and independence resulting in the inner conflicts that they experience as a result of this.

In her short story collection, To Much Happiness (2009), her ten short stories take on sensational subjects. All the elements of pulp fiction are present in these stories: violence, adultery, extreme cruelty, duplicity, theft, suicide and murder.

Refusal is an important theme in her fiction as her characters refuse to obey convention and rebel against authority. We are shocked by the pulp fiction stark stories and characters. We come to realize that it is the shock of recognition. We have had similar notions or we are that way also.

The structure of her stories are unusual as most short stories begin "en media res" (in the middle of things), but Munro's stories can end in the middle of things with ambivalence, and therefore, the reader doesn't always find a resolution in her stories.

She has a brilliant, unique play on the contemporary short story and plays with time weaving it in and out of the story. Munro has said she also reads stories unconventionally. "I don't always or even usually read stories from beginning to end . . . I start anywhere and proceed in either direction."

She doesn't read a story to find out what will happen but to immerse herself into and to experience the world of the story and to inhabit it for a while. It alters her perspective which she likes to do and gives her an unusual way to write her own stories.

In her short story collection, "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001), the women in her stories are constantly torn between domesticity and independence, between familial roots and freedom, from a yearning sense for connection and a more solitary sense of themselves as outsiders. Munro traces the choices her women characters make and the fallout of those decisions. She uses an old fashioned realism in her writing and the mundane of ordinary life.

Her characters are real, flawed and sympathetic because they are people we know firsthand or shockingly, ourselves. Munro shows us how her characters are shaped by love, loss and the simple passage of time.

Her women are characters who have grown up in small provincial Canadian towns and who where faced at some point in their lives with a decision in the choice of staying in their present life or leaving for a new life in a larger town or city.

Her female characters have grown up with a traditional set of values, mores and dreams, only to find the 1960's and its hectic times has altered their expectations. She takes a look at the ramifications of one character who has stayed still and another character who has moved on.

Munro's stories are more ambivalent and a reminder of the foolishness of impulsive, youthful choices and memories which form an impediment to self-realization. Her characters have "a little hum of hate running along side the character's love" for another. She gives the reader the sense of a character's entire life as she moves back and forth from the past to the present.

"The View from Castle Rock" (2006) is her collection of short stories that does not take place in Canada. These stories take place in 17th century Scotland where she looks at her family's history and produces a mixture of invention and fact. She focuses on life's sorrows and tragedies as she reveals the stories of her family which are part truth and part fiction.

Alice Munro and her short stories are a revelation of imaginative characters that learn shocking truths about their lives and the decisions they encountered along the way in life. And, we learn shocking truths about our own lives, as well, as we read her short stories. We learn the ramifications of our decisions along with her characters as they discover them too.

The "master of the contemporary short story" has finally won the ultimate prize. Congratulations Alice Munro on becoming a Nobel Laureate.


Copyright (c) 2013 Suzannah Wolf Walker all rights reserved



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    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      6 years ago from Taos, NM

      Zelda: Thank you so much for your comments and visit. I am so glad you enjoyed reading this. I just love Munro's short stories. She is so creative and talented I just had to write about her. I hope you find my short stories interesting.

    • ZeldaMes profile image

      Zelda Mes 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks Suzette it will be nice to be able to reference your hub as a handy short hand for Munro's background and fame as a writer. Its so cool for me to be corresponding with someone in Naples. (Forgive the lingo: I teach teenagers!) I am looking forward to reading your short stories.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      6 years ago from Taos, NM

      ZeldaMes: By all means, write your hub about Munro and her stories. I don't believe I have read these two stories so I would look forward to a hub about them. I like Alice Munro so much and she is an inspiration to me because she is a short story writer. She realized early on that her talent was short stories and didn't have a novel in her. I am beginning to think I am the same way. If there is a novel in me, it is slow in coming. LOL! I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this and it is nice to meet another Munro fan.

    • ZeldaMes profile image

      Zelda Mes 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      I am delighted to have discovered a hub on Alice Munro. I have just finished a hub on JD Salinger's style of writing and was going to tackle Munro next: she has taught me such a lot about short story writing. Do you think there would be enough interest in a hub on analyzing her stories "Lichen' and "White Dump" (my two favourite stories)?

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      mckbirdbks: Thank you so much for your insightful comments. I have always enjoyed Munro's short stories - I have read many of them and I was so excited to see a short story writer to win the Nobel Prize. She and her writing are so inspiring. So glad you enjoyed reading this and I appreciate your visit and your comments.

    • mckbirdbks profile image


      7 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      suzettenaples you offer such a stellar view of this writer and her work. The research must be monumentous to gather and compile. The Nobel Prize for literature is a crowning acheivment for any writer. This was excellent.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Audrey, so nice of you to stop by. Thanks for reading this. I am so glad she is now a Nobel Laureate. I believe she is in her 80's and I don't blame her if she retires, but I agree it is sad for us readers. Thanks for you comments and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      8 years ago from California

      So wonderful to come across this article today--I love her and her work--and I do think she will be retiring--and I for one--will be sadder for it

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Gypsy48: I highly recommend any her books. Her stories are all so good, I think. I never saw the movie, "Away From Her", but I read the story that she title, "The Bear Came over the Mountain." So good. Thanks for taking the time to read this and I am glad you enjoyed it.

    • Gypsy48 profile image


      8 years ago

      Excellent hub. I have never read any of her books but I did see the movie "Away From Her" which was quite good.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Eddy: Thank you so much for the share and I am glad you enjoyed reading this. Munro is such an inspiration to all short story writers!

    • Eiddwen profile image


      8 years ago from Wales

      Another wonderfully interesting hub by you Suzette and voted up plus shared onto A brand New Dawn for sure.

      Enjoy your day.


    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Mhatter: Thanks so much for reading this. I think you would enjoy her stories. I appreciate the visit and your comments.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Faith: I know, I am so excited that a short story writer has won the Nobel Prize since I am a writer of short stories. It gives one hope! LOL "Bear" is one of the short stories I have read by her and it is very good. So sad and poignant. Thanks so much Faith, for your interest and you have a great weekend also.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      teaches: I highly recommend her. I haven't read all her books, mostly just her short stories that were printed in publications, but she is an interesting writer. I think you will like her stories. Thanks so much for the visit and I appreciate your comments.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for the great introduction. Well done

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      8 years ago from southern USA

      Excellent write here dear suzette! How amazing it is that solely a short story writer has won the Noble Prize in Literature!!! I believe I've heard of "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" but have not read it. I look forward to reading her work now due to your phenomenal tribute to a phenomenal writer.

      Up and more and sharing,

      Have a great weekend,

      Faith Reaper

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      8 years ago

      This is a new author awareness for me. She certainly has written a lot of books. Thanks for the information, I will have to look her up at the library.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Jaye: Your comments are so interesting! Yes, you are never to old to publish! LOL This is the best time of life for me to write so I'm not going to worry about age and any age I publish will be all right with me. I am glad they gave a nod to a short story writer - it does inspire me to keep writing! Thanks for taking the time to read this and glad you enjoyed it.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      8 years ago from Deep South, USA

      This is a wonderful profile of Alice Munro and her writing. It is also very inspirational that she won a Nobel Prize to those of us who also write short fiction.

      Bill's mention of her age (and she's only 12 years older than I am) reminds me that Helen Santmyer published the surprise 1984 bestseller AND LADIES OF THE CLUB when she was 88 years old. She'd been working on the novel for more than half of her life.

      Both Munro and Santmyer should serve as inspiration to all of us who write in our senior years.

      Voted Up++++


    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Hi Denise: Thanks so much for stopping by and I'm so glad you enjoyed this and found it inspirational. She is quite a story teller. I think you would enjoy her work. Thanks so much for your comments - most appreciated!

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      cmoneyspinner: Do read her stories. They are wonderful and so engaging. I am glad to introduce you to Alice and I hope you enjoy her and her stories. I highly recommend them. Thanks so much for you visit and I appreciate your comments.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Bill: There is ALWAYS hope! I am excited she won because she is solely a short story writer. You don't have to be a novelist to win the Nobel Prize. She is quite an inspiration to me because I write in that genre also. I have read some of her stories and they are wonderful and so engaging. I think she is a terrific writer and would highly recommend her to anyone. Thanks so much for your visit and for your comments - most appreciated!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Wonderful hub info. I'm sad to say I've never read her material. This hub has inspired me to do so. UP/U/I and will share. Thanks.

    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 

      8 years ago from Austin, Texas

      A HUB is an excellent way to shine the spotlight on an outstanding writer! Never heard of this woman but I know her now! :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      She is seventeen years older than me. There is still hope for me. LOL

      Wonderful review and tribute. I will try her out based on this. Well done Suzette.


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