Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize

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aaalicemunroAlice Munro today was named the first-ever Canadian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, so we’ll pause to engage in a little celebrating here.

Her name has come up every fall in recent years (and the bookies had her as second favorite this year) but the announcement is still a bit of a surprise. The Nobel jury has tended to favor writers who have a “political” side to their fiction — “political” is one adjective that would not apply to Alice’s work.

What she is is a decent, generous human being with an exceptional talent for both observation and the ability to capture the results of that observation in words. Every one of her stories is like a carefully sculpted, three dimensional word picture. When considered as a body of work, they capture an entire community — there is a reason why southwestern Ontario is known as Munro country.

She is 82 now and has announced that Dear Life, the collection released late last year, would be her last. If you are looking for it on a Giller list, incidentally, you won’t find it — it is a sign of Munro’s humility that after winning the Prize twice she asked her publishers to stop submitting her books for consideration.

I have read all of Alice’s collections, but most of that reading took place before I started blogging here. You will find reviews of three here: The View From Castle Rock, the autobiographical collection which traces her own family history starting in Scotland; Too Much Happiness, her 2009 collection; and the previously mentioned Dear Life.

And I have another review schedule to close out 2013 — I will be re-reading her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, as the concluding book in my 2013 project of revisiting 12 Canadian authors who influenced me. I first read it when it was published in 1968 and I was 20 years old. Today’s Nobel announcement underlined that I have been reading, enjoying and appreciating Alice Munro’s work for most of my adult life — I have every intention of revisiting some of her other early collections as well.

Alice Munro is a deserving winner — and I am sure that many Canadian readers are as proud as I am that her work has received the international recognition that the Nobel Prize represents.

25 Responses to “Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize”

  1. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    I am bursting with pride at this well deserved honour for Alice Munro. She is a brilliant writer, and represents everything we hold dear as Canadians. A most worthy winner.

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  2. Michèle Dextras Says:

    I have always wanted to suggest an Alice Munro book of short stories as my choice for my Book club and this year is certainly the year to do it! Like all readers of Canadian literature, I strongly believe that this honour is long over due! Congratulations Ms. Munro!

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Thanks, Michele. If you are looking for thoughts on a selection, I’d suggest Runaway — it is quite representative of her work and very accessible to those who have not read Munro yet. Dear Life is a very good collection but a number of the stories (autobiographical ones) revisit some of her earlier ones and you almost have to have read those to appreciate these ones.

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  3. Marie Thompson Says:

    I’ve been so grateful that she illustrated women’s lives so vividly and memorably.

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      She did that, didn’t she? I will be particularly interested in that angle when I get to Dance of the Happy Shades later this year. It was what impressed me when I first read the collection — I’m wonder what 45 years of “aging” has done to it.

      I was also a little surprised today (although I should have known it) that that first collection did not appear until Munro was 37. I seem to have been reading her forever, but she did not start publishing until she was well into maturity.

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  4. Crake Says:

    Kevin, I’m just so happy with Munro’s win — “The Dance of the Happy Shades”, “The Beggar Maid”, and “The Love of a Good Woman” are among the best books I’ve ever read.

    But I’m also surprised with her win. A few days ago, I told Trevor that I didn’t want to get my hopes too high when I saw her name climbing up the Ladbrokes odds. I guess I always thought that she was considered “too subtle” and “not political enough” by the Swedish Academy. Fortunately, I was wrong.

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  5. Trevor Says:

    I was also wrong! I knew she was a favorite of many (which is why I thought people were betting on her), but I’d never seen any indication the Academy was taking her work into consideration. I’ve just come from a place where people are harping about how she is “boring” or “won because she was a woman.” It’s refreshing to be with others who see through all that.

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      While I would not call her “exciting”, “boring” is truly unfair. A friend who is a well regarded critic and author does complaint that reading Munro is “like looking at the world through sepia-tinted glasses”, which has some validity with some stories.

      Personally, I do find it interesting that I don’t remember many Munro stories in great detail, top of mind. But when I start to reread a story, I find the entire thing comes into sharp focus as I read the first few sentences — it may not be front of consciousness, but it is sure all there in the sub-conscious. I cannot think of any other author who has that affect on me.

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  6. Lee Monks Says:

    I’m quite happy to call Munro ‘exciting’. She’s, for me, the greatest living author of any form of writing. At the very least she’s top three. I can’t see the counter-argument to that. Which is why her being awarded the prize is overdue. The result is a huge victory for literature and for future generations that will find it that easier to assume she’s someone everyone interested in fiction has to read.

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  7. Kerry Says:

    Congratulations to all the longtime Munro fans and the Canadian reading/writing community.
    I have only read a small portion of her work, I am not Canadian, and I was thrilled by the announcement, so I can only imagine the joy of longtime fans.

    Dear Life is the first collection of Munro stories I have read (should have won a Rooster), though I had enjoyed a number of her stories individually. I am embarrassed not to have read more, but am pleased I have so much outstanding writing to look forward to reading. And I have been planning to coincide some Munro with your 2013 project.

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      The advantage of not having read many of her collections yet is that you can always keeps one on hand and dip into it now and then when you feel the urge. Having read the last collection first, you will discover that a number of the “events” that feature in stories there also were the subject of earlier stories, albeit told from a different point of view. Munro loves to explore a set of circumstances from a number of different aspects.

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  8. Lisa Hill Says:

    I read Munro’s stories when I was doing a diploma in writing and journalism and she was recommended as a master of the short story back then. We in Australia feel a bit like cousins to Canada, so we’re very pleased and proud too:)

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      I agree that the Old Dominions do tend to cheer for each other (and feel some joint pride when the “other” wins) when it comes to international competitions. With the size and influence of the U.S. and U.K. in English language publishing, it is sometimes hard to attract attention.

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  9. Bruce Donald Harwood Says:

    I find it bizarre that the CBC (and perhaps other Canadian new media?) is dancing around the fact that this is the first Canadian writer to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, when it should be the lead story. They seem to think they can’t because other Canadians have been awarded Nobels in the past, and oh yes Saul Bellow was born here so doesn’t he count somehow?

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      I’m not sure what your point is. All of the coverage I have read acknowledges Munro’s award as the first Canadian to win the Literature prize — usually pointing out that Bellow spent few years and was an American citizen when he won. From my perspective, the “news” is much more about the quality of her work than her citizenship.

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      • Bruce Donald Harwood Says:

        Perhaps I was overreacting to a turn of phrase the CBC website insisted on using all day: Alice Munro was “the first Canadian woman” to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. It implies, to me, at any rate, that a man had won previously. The same article went to the trouble of mentioning that Saul Bellow had received the prize and he’d been born in Canada. It all seemed a backhanded way of minimizing her achievement. Why mention Bellow at all? Why emphasize that she’s a Canadian woman? It seems to me a very odd way of telling the story.

        She’s a brilliant writer, period. She deserves the prize.

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      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        Thanks for the clarification — I see your point.

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  10. anokatony Says:

    Who could possibly object to Alice Munro as a Nobel winner? I discovered her back in the Seventies with “The Beggar Maid – Stories of Rose and Flo” (I think, not sure of the names). I suppose someone might object at it being too safe a pick, but I consider her work outstanding. .

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      Thanks for bringing up The Beggar Maid (published as Who Do You Think You Are? in Canada). Munro’s UK publisher and that year’s Booker jury were enthused enough about it that they declared the collection a “novel” — and shortlisted her. Alas, she did not win — it want to William Golding for Rites of Passage>

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  11. leroyhunter Says:

    I’ve never read her work, but she seems eminently deserving of the prize. A good deal of the carping about the decision seems to be the usual “whataboutery” that online discussion propagates; or wrong-headed in terms of misunderstanding or misrepresenting the purpose of the Nobel.

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      I have certainly scratched my head about many Nobel winners so I can hardly complain if others wonder about this one. I certainly think she deserves the Prize — the fact that I am revisiting her first collection as part of my 2013 “reread” project is proof positive of the respect that I have for her work.

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  12. Buried In Print Says:

    You’ve read them all? Were you tempted to “save” one? Like Dear Life, for instance? With such a gap between that and her previous?

    The only one I’ve yet to read is Hateship, Courtship… and although I know I will get there (because I started to re-read all the others in 2011 and have just a few collections left to re-visit now), a big part of me just wants to keep one.

    I’ll be interested to read your thoughts on re-reading DotHS; it was first in my re-reading project and I had rather expected to be disappointed, but that was not the case. Anyhow, even if it had been, the process of re-reading is still fascinating. Have you read Wendy Lesser’s book on re-reading by chance?

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    • KevinfromCanada Says:

      I’ve read them all as they appeared so it has been a 40+ year experience — I’d have a tough time trying to figure out which ones I have re-read. Not that many, I suspect, since new collections have appeared at regular intervals.

      In that sense, returning to Dance of the Happy Shades will probably be the start of an informal Munro “project” and I will plan on revisiting them in order. It will be highly spaced out, however (probably one a year) — while I like Munro a lot, it is true that there is a “sameness” to some of the stories which can be grating if you don’t leave some space in the reading.

      I haven’t read the Wendy Lesser book, although I can certainly recall a number of essays I have read that underline why the writers have found rereading rewarding. Certainly, I am enjoying my 2013 project.

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