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Alice Munro, short story master



IT'S BEEN SOME TIME since I've read Alice Munro’s stories, but the news of the revered Canadian author’s passing on Monday reminded me of the impact they had on me. Her story collections are now stacked on my dining room table, soon to be reread.


I took my first serious look at Munro’s work in 1983 when I was planning my thesis for my master’s degree in English. By that time, she was already an established author with a litany of awards. Dance of the Happy Shades, her first collection, had been released in 1968 and won the Governor General’s Award for Literature. It was followed by Lives of Girls and Women in 1971 and Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You in 1974. In the mid-1970s, her stories began appearing in the New Yorker, and her relationship with the magazine lasted throughout her writing life. In 1978, Who Do You Think You Are? won a second GG. The Moons of Jupiter was released in 1982.


Who wouldn’t be impressed by the honours she racked up in her early years? And the more I read, the more impressed I was. As a young woman in the 1980s, Munro’s tales about the complex lives of contemporary women resonated deeply: their unfulfilled dreams, their uncertainties, their broken marriages, their loneliness, their shame. And their triumphs. Del Jordan, whose coming-of-age saga was charted in the eight linked stories in Lives of Girls and Women, seemed to be a portrait of my own adolescence.


What also impressed me at the time was that Munro’s stories were set in Canada, although the emotions their characters experience are universal.


And I’m especially thankful for today is the recognition Alice Munro has given to the short story, a form of fiction often considered inferior to the novel. As a mother of three children in the 1950s and ’60s, she didn’t have the time to devote to a novel, so she turned her hand to writing short stories. And she remained loyal to the form throughout her long writing career. She never did write a novel.


Awarding her the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 when she was 82, the Swedish Academy praised her ability to "accommodate the entire epic complexity of the novel in just a few short pages."


In an interview with CBC shortly after that, she said, “I would really hope this would make people see the short story as an important art, not just something that you played around with until you’d got a novel written.”


Alice Munro’s stories have been translated into 20 languages. She won three Governor General Awards, the American National Book Critics Circle Award, two Scotiabank Giller Prizes, the PEN/Malamud Award, the Man Booker International Prize, and three Trillium Book Awards. She was named a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Chevalier of the Ordre des arts et des lettres of France.


Her achievements make me proud to be a Canadian.

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Donna Carrick
Donna Carrick
May 16

What a lovely tribute, Rosemary.

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