Alice Munro 2005
“More than any writer since Chekhov, Munro strives for and achieves, in each of her stories, a gestalt-like completeness in the representation of a life.” –New York Times, 2004
“I like the West Coast attitudes. Winters [there] to me are sort of like a holiday. People are thinking about themselves. The way I grew up, people were thinking about duty.” — Alice Munro, 2004
Twice winner of the Giller Prize; three times the recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, Alice Munro is peerless. Her work has gained her the distinction accorded by the New York Times as “the only living writer in the English language to have made a major career out of short fiction alone.” She is also the 11th annual recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an Outstanding Literary Career in British Columbia.
Alice Munro was born Alice Laidlaw in Wingham, Ontario on July 31, 1931. Her father was a fox farmer; her mother, a former teacher. When her mother developed Parkinson’s disease, Alice Laidlaw was forced to undertake a large share of the domestic duties. She nonetheless nursed her ambitions to become a writer. “I think choosing to be a writer was a very reckless thing to do,” she told CBC’s Shelagh Rogers in 2004, “although I didn’t realize it. I was planning an historical novel in grade seven.
It gave way to a Wuthering Heights novel I was writing all the way through high school.” After two years at the University of Western Ontario, she married Jim Munro in December of 1951 and they moved to Vancouver and Victoria where she became the mother of three daughters; the eldest two were born in Vancouver where she inspired by the success of local novelist Ethel Wilson. Encouraged by her husband to pursue her writing in West Vancouver, she once rented a small office for herself in Dundarave.
In Victoria, she helped her husband establish Munro’s Books, opened in 1963, now generally considered one of the finest independent bookstores in Canada. She sold her first short story to Mayfair magazine in 1953. She has suggested she might have opted for the short story approach to fiction because she was balancing her duties as the mother of three children. She resided in Vancouver and Victoria for 22 years before her first marriage ended.
Alice Munro’s first short story collection, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), received the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. Her follow-up, Lives of Girls and Women (1971), received the Canadian Booksellers Award and became the basis for a Canadian movie that featured one of her daughters as the heroine Del Jordan.
After separating from her husband in 1973, Alice Munro returned to Ontario where she became writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario in 1974. Divorced in 1976, the year she received her first honorary doctorate (having been unable to finish university due to lack of funds), she married Gerald Fremlin, a geographer she had first met as a student. A frequent contributor to the New Yorker magazine since 1976, she has firmly established her reputation as Canada’s most consistent writer with her impeccable style and exacting perceptions. All her books have been well-received and feature heroines who seek some measure of control over their lives through understanding.
Munro’s work has received many literary prizes, including three Governor General’s Awards, the Giller Prize, a Canada Council Molson’s Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Prize, the first Canada-Australia Literary Prize and the first Marian Engel Award. She is the first Canadian to receive the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the Rea Award for lifetime achievement in short stories.
The 2001 Rea Award jurors Maureen Howard, James Salter and Edmund White wrote: “For many years the Canadian writer Alice Munro has astonished her readers with stories that are magical and wise. The magic is in her art as a storyteller, in her exquisitely modulated prose — lyrical, exacting, at time comical — which captures the lives of her charatcers, both women and men, attempting to understand their personal histories in the larger sweep of history. Munro’s configuration of time is Chekovian, supple in its bright flashes of insight, connection; shadowed in its strokes of disappointment, separation and loss.
Long honored as a master of short fiction, Munro’s searching narrators often draw the reader to contemplate the devices of storytelling itself, the mysterious ways in which we distort reality, reconfigure the past to avoid or embrace revelation. Munro’s wisdom lies in her ability to portray the close-up, the self-dramatizing moment or limited vision then draw back for the complex and informing view. As one of her most endearing characters discovers, you can ‘look up from your life of the moment and feel the world crackling beyond the walls.’ In her art of the story, Alice Munro encourages us to reflect, to see our own time and place and perhaps to redeem, if not ourselves, at least our own stories in the larger setting of the world.”
In the early 1990s Alice Munro began living partially in Clinton, Ontario and spending her winters in Comox, on Vancouver Island, mainly keeping a low profile. Her daughter Sheila Munro published an astute and revealing autobiographical and critical study of their family relationship and her mother’s books, Lives of Mothers and Daughters (2001), with Alice Munro’s encouragement and consent. [See Sheila Munro entry] Alice Munro’s Runaway (2004) has eight stories that reflect her dual hometowns of Comox and Clinton.
More than one reviewer has suggested it’s impossible to characterize the subject matter of Runaway because Munro’s beguiling stories are so multi-layered and diverse, but she has herself noted, “what I wanted to do in this book was take these sharp turns in people’s lives.” Three linked tales follow Juliet, a young teacher who visits her fisherman lover’s home the day after his wife’s funeral.
In the title story, Munro keeps the reader guessing as to how a white goat’s disappearances relates to a couple’s unraveling relationship. The final story covers almost a lifetime in its 65 pages. The collection earned Munro her second Giller Prize.
Selected Awards: Governor General’s Award (3), PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, Giller Prize (2), The Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, W.H. Smith Prize in the U.K., National Book Circle Critics Award in the U.S., Trillium Prize, Molson’s Prize, Libris Award, Rea Award for Lifetime Achievement, Terasen Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dance of the Happy Shades (1968)
Lives of Girls and Women (1971)
Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You (1974)
Who Do You Think You Are? (1978) Published as The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose in the US and U.K. (1978)
The Moons of Jupiter (1983)
The Progress of Love (1986)
Friend of my Youth (1990)
Open Secrets (1994)
Selected Stories (1996)
The Love of a Good Woman (1998)
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001)