Awards are nothing new for short story author Alice Munro, but with the announcement of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize Winners, the Canadian short story writer of 14 collections adds yet another accolade to her resume. Writers and readers have sung Munro’s praises for years, and, in presenting the award, the Nobel Peace Prize committee proclaimed her the “master of the contemporary short story.” But why? What makes her work so special and deserving of such a high honor?
The Nobel Peace Prize for Literature
Some pretty impressive literary giants jump out from the list of previous Nobel Peace Prize winners in literature—Rudyard Kipling, William Butler Yeats, Thomas Mann, Eugene O’Neill, Pearl S. Buck, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner and Toni Morrison. While an award for literature has not been given every year since the founding of the prize (in fact the prize has only been awarded 106 times to 110 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2013), the 82-year-old Munro is only the 13th woman to earn the accolade among this pantheon of literary Illuminati.
Julie Bosman wrote about the honor October 10, 2013, in “Alice Munro Wins Nobel Peace Prize in Literature” for The New York Times, saying “The selection of Ms. Munro was greeted with an outpouring of enthusiasm in the English-speaking world, a temporary relief from recent years when the Swedish Academy chose winners who were obscure, difficult to comprehend or overtly political.” Despite the honor, Bosman adds that “Her collection Dear Life, published last year, appears to be her last. She told The National Post in Canada this year that she was finished writing, a sentiment she echoed in other interviews.”
Thoughts from the writer
Previously the short story author had already received just about every award imaginable for a Canadian writer, from three Governor-General’s Awards, to the American National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as a Trillium, the Mann Booker Prize and two Giller Prizes. Alice Munro also was the first Canadian to win both the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in short fiction, and the Rea Award for the Short Story. But her work has never been about prizes or awards.
Lisa Godfrey wrote for the Summer 2005 issue of Queen’s Quarterly, “Alice Munro: A Life in Writing; A Conversation with Eleanor Wachtel,” which delved into the impetus and themes for much of Munro’s short stories. Godfrey describes Munro’s work as written “with intelligence, depth, and compassion, carrying her readers with her in her explorations of character, in search of some kind of understanding—no neat resolutions, just trying to figure things out in an elegant, moving way.”
When asked about the “emotionally important or even life-changing” events that happen in much of her work, Munro stated in the interview that “I like the change not to be the change that you thought you were finding—and for something to come that is completely unexpected, as if life had a mind of its own and would take hold of you and present you with something that you hadn’t anticipated.”
The must-read list
In fact, writing may have been something that Alice Munro herself didn’t anticipate. She came to writing late, her first collection being published when she was 37, in 1968. Munro learned to write around raising three children and being a wife. And while it was always her intention to write a novel, the short story seemed to have not only offered her an outlet for her creative energies, but one which she excelled at.
The blog, Open Culture, shared in its October 10, 2013, article, “Read 17 Short Stories from Nobel Prize-Winning Writer Alice Munro Free Online,” several selections of what it sees as the short story author’s best work, some of which are listed here:
- “A Red Dress—1946” (2012-13)
- “Amundson” (2012)
- “Train” (2012)
- “To Reach Japan” (2012)
- “Gravel” (2011)
- “Deep Holes” (2008)
- “Free Radicals” (2008)
- “Face” (2008)
- “Dimension” (2006)
- “Passion” (2004)
- “Runaway” (2003)
- “Boys and Girls” (1968)
What do you think? Is Alice Munro deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize? What author hasn’t received the award that should have? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.