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Alice Munro, Nobel prize-winning Canadian author, has died at 92

Updated May 14, 2024 at 7:50 p.m.
May 14, 2024
May 14, 2024
4 min read

Legendary Canadian short story writer and Nobel laureate Alice Munro died Monday night in her home in Port Hope, Ont. She was 92.

Called “Canada’s Chekhov,” Munro won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009. In 2013, she became the first Canadian woman and 13th woman overall to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Most of her stories, including perhaps her best known, ”The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” were set in southwestern Ontario, where she was from. She is survived by her daughters, Sheila, Jenny and Andrea and their families.

Munro grew up in Wingham, Ont., and attended the University of Western Ontario. In her first year, she published her first story, “The Dimensions of a Shadow,” in college literary magazine Folio. Even this, her first literary foray, was later described as “remarkable” by The Paris Review.

After moving to Victoria, B.C., in 1963, she opened Munro’s Books — called ”Canada’s most beautiful bookstore” — with her then husband, James. James ran the store for 50 years before giving it away in 2014 to four of its staff, whom he called family, to the consternation of lawyers and accountants. James died two years later at 87.

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Alice Munro receives the Governor General’s Literary Award from then Gov. Gen. Jeanne Sauvé in 1987.

Her first collection of stories, “Dance of the Happy Shades,” published in 1968 when she was 37, earned the Governor General’s Award — the first of many prizes Munro would take home throughout her long, distinguished career, including two more Governor General’s Awards and two Giller Prizes.

In total, Munro published 13 collections of stories as well as a novel, “Lives of Girls and Women” — though even this was written as a series of interlinked short stories.

She was awarded her second Governor General’s Literary Award in 1978 for “Who Do You Think You Are?”, which also won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1980 under the title “The Beggar Maid.” She was awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award a third time in 1986 for “The Progress of Love.”

“Alice Munro is a national treasure — a writer of enormous depth, empathy, and humanity whose work is read, admired, and cherished by readers throughout Canada and around the world,” said Kristin Cochrane, CEO of Penguin Random House Canada, longtime publisher of Munro’s work.

“Alice’s writing inspired countless writers too, and her work leaves an indelible mark on our literary landscape.”

Munro had been in frail health for years and often spoke of retirement, a decision that proved final after the author’s 2012 collection, “Dear Life.”

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Sheila Munton as a baby with her mother Alice Munro and father in 1954, from her book “Lives Of Mothers & Daughters.”

Munro achieved stature rare for an art form traditionally placed beneath the novel. Whether or not she was the first Canadian to win the Nobel (some choose not to count Saul Bellow, who won in 1976 but moved to Chicago from Quebec when he was nine) she was the first recipient cited exclusively for short fiction. Echoing the judgment of so many before, the Swedish academy pronounced her a “master of the contemporary short story” who could “accommodate the entire epic complexity of the novel in just a few short pages.”

Over a half century of writing, Munro perfected one of the greatest tricks of any art form: illuminating the universal through the particular, creating stories set around Canada that appealed to readers far away. She produced no single definitive work, but dozens of classics that were showcases of wisdom, technique and talent — her inspired plot twists and artful shifts of time and perspective; her subtle, sometimes cutting humor; her summation of lives in broad dimension and fine detail; her insights into people across age or background, her genius for sketching a character, like the adulterous woman introduced as “short, cushiony, dark-eyed, effusive. A stranger to irony.”

Her best known fiction included “The Beggar’s Maid,” a courtship between an insecure young woman and an officious rich boy who becomes her husband; “Corrie,” in which a wealthy young woman has an affair with an architect “equipped with a wife and young family”; and “The Moons of Jupiter,” about a middle-aged writer who visits her ailing father in a Toronto hospital and shares memories of different parts of their lives.

“I think any life can be interesting,” Munro said during a 2013 post-prize interview for the Nobel Foundation. “I think any surroundings can be interesting.”

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Photo of Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro

In a tribute to Munro published in the Star in the wake of her Nobel win, Canadian writer and former Star entertainment section contributor David Macfarlane wrote reverently of Munro’s ability to transport her readers, as if by magic, into the places she described.

“In ‘Cortes Island,’ Munro’s description of Vancouver is transporting to anyone who has been there,” Macfarlane wrote. “It’s not so much that you are reading about how ‘the leaves of the winter shrubs glistened in the damp air of a faintly rosy twilight.’ It’s more like you are actually experiencing what Munro is describing. How does this happen?”

Disliking Munro, as a writer or as a person, seemed almost heretical. She was admired without apparent envy, placed by the likes of Jonathan Franzen, John Updike and Cynthia Ozick at the very top of the pantheon. Munro’s daughter, Sheila, wrote a memoir in which she confided that “so unassailable is the truth of her fiction that sometimes I even feel as though I’m living inside an Alice Munro story.” Fellow Canadian author Margaret Atwood called her a pioneer for women, and for Canadians.

“Back in the 1950s and 60s, when Munro began, there was a feeling that not only female writers but Canadians were thought to be both trespassing and transgressing,” Atwood wrote in a 2013 tribute published in the Guardian after Munro won the Nobel. “The road to the Nobel wasn’t an easy one for Munro: the odds that a literary star would emerge from her time and place would once have been zero.”

Moviegoers would become familiar with “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” the improbably seamless tale of a married woman with memory loss who has an affair with a fellow nursing home patient, a story further complicated by her husband’s many past infidelities. “The Bear” was adapted by director Sarah Polley into the feature film “Away from Her,” which brought an Academy Award nomination for Julie Christie.

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Alice Munro seen in this April 23 1979 photo by Reg Innell, helped to revive the short story as a vital form.

Munro was a short story writer by choice, and, apparently, by design. Judith Jones, an editor at Alfred A. Knopf who worked with Updike and Anne Tyler, did not want to publish “Lives of Girls and Women,” her only novel, writing in an internal memo that “there’s no question the lady can write but it’s also clear she is primarily a short story writer.”

Munro would acknowledge that she didn’t think like a novelist.

“I have all these disconnected realities in my own life, and I see them in other people’s lives,” she told the AP. “That was one of the problems, why I couldn’t write novels. I never saw things hanging together too well.”

With files from The Associated Press.

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Credit belongs to : www.thestar.com

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