Alice Munro, an 82-year-old marvel, became the first Canadian woman to receive a Nobel Prize in literature earlier this month. Munro isn’t new to the award-winning world. The short story writer has been receiving awards for her works since the ’60s, when she received the Governor General’s Literary Award.
Reports say that the Nobel Prize win came as a shock to Munro, which suggests a humble attitude. Unlike many public figures, Munro is an elusive personality and guards her privacy carefully. Born and raised in Wingham, Ontario, Munro currently resides in nearby Clinton. She studied English and journalism at the University of Western Ontario, and in 1950 published her first story, “The Dimensions of a Shadow”.
Munro writes short stories on a personal scale that explore human complexities through simple, direct sentences. Yet her fiction writing deals with unusual and troubling information in an indirect manner that keeps the reader craving more. The words she uses paint a vivid canvas, leaving out redundant and elaborate explanations.
It’s more common to find short story writers who also write novels, but to find a high-profile writer so committed to the short story form is remarkably rare. Major publishers agree that the short story doesn’t sell well; it might even be unfashionable. But Munro succeeds in not only selling her short stories, but also in making a Canadian icon of herself in the process.
The stories Munro writes are usually set in her home province, often in very unglamorous locales, with no indication of present time. Despite her introverted and sweet-looking exterior, Munro writes some dark and terrifying fiction. The narrators and protagonists are regularly filled with obscure secrets that pique the readers’ curiosity. She creates characters that abuse town gossip and flutter around in the most unpleasant settings, such as impoverished farm kitchens. Her male characters seem to represent the epitome of cold-heartedness, to the extent that some critics shun them as unrealistic. However, these criticisms haven’t influenced her style, and Munro’s success and the praise for her work speaks for itself.
Munro told the National Post back in June that she was “probably not going to write anymore”, and even after the fabulous win, she has been ambivalent about committing to another book. But Munro has already done Canada proud and secured the short story’s place in literature.