Alice Munro, Nobel Laureate and Master of the Short Story, Dies at 92

Alice Munro, the revered Canadian author who began writing short stories because she didn’t think she had the time or talent to master novels, then doggedly dedicated her long career to producing psychologically dense stories that dazzled the literary world and earned her the Nobel Prize for Literature, died Monday evening in Port Hope, Ontario, east of Toronto. She was 92 years old.

A spokesperson for his publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, confirmed the death at a retirement home. Ms Munro’s health had declined since at least 2009, when she said she had heart bypass surgery and was treated for cancer, although she continued to write.

Ms. Munro was one of a rare breed of writers, like Katherine Anne Porter and Raymond Carver, who made a name for themselves in the notoriously difficult literary field of the short story, and did so with great success. Her stories – many of which centered on women at different stages of their lives confronting complex desires – were received so enthusiastically and read with gratitude that she attracted a whole new generation of readers.

Ms. Munro’s stories were widely considered to be second to none, a blend of ordinary people and extraordinary themes. She depicted small-town residents, often in rural southwestern Ontario, facing situations that made fantasy seem like an everyday occurrence. Some of his characters have been so fully developed across generations and continents that readers have achieved a level of intimacy with them that is usually only found in a full-length novel.

It achieved such compactness through exquisite craftsmanship and a degree of precision that did not waste words. Other writers have said that some of her stories were almost perfect – a heavy burden for a writer of modest personal character who had struggled to overcome her lack of self-confidence early in her career, when she left the the protective embrace of his calm. hometown and ventured into the competitive literary scene.

Her insecurity, as powerful as she felt it, was never noticed by her fellow writers, who celebrated her skill and freely gave her their highest praise.

The Irish novelist Edna O’Brien ranked Ms. Munro with William Faulkner and James Joyce among the writers who influenced her work. Joyce Carol Oates said that Munro’s stories “have the density – moral, emotional, sometimes historical – of other writers’ novels”. And the novelist Richard Ford once made it clear that questioning Ms. Munro’s mastery of the short story would be like doubting the hardness of a diamond or the bouquet of a ripe peach.

“With Alice, it’s like a shortcut,” Mr. Ford said. “You’ll just mention her, and everyone usually nods and says she’s as good as it gets.”

In awarding her the Nobel in 2013, when she was 82, the Swedish Academy cited her 14 collections of short stories and called her a “master of the contemporary short story”, praising her ability to “adapt to all the epic complexity of the novel. in just a few short pages.

As famous for the refined exuberance of her prose as for the modesty of her personal life, Ms. Munro refused to travel to Sweden to accept her Nobel, saying she was too fragile. Instead of the formal lecture that winners traditionally give, she recorded a lengthy interview in Victoria, British Columbia, where she had been when her award was announced. When asked if the process of writing her stories had completely consumed her, she said yes, then added, “But you know, I always have lunch for my kids. »

Presenting the recorded interview at the Swedish Academy, Swedish actress Pernilla August read an excerpt from Ms. Munro’s story “Washed Away,” a story of decades of disappointed expectations that characterizes the complicated world and often disappointing in his stories. .

“She had her photo taken. She knew how she wanted it to go,” we can read in the excerpt. “She would have liked to wear a simple white blouse, a peasant blouse with the drawstring open at the neck. She did not own a blouse of this description and had in fact only seen them in photos. And she would have liked to let her hair down. Or if it had to be stood up, she would have liked it to be stacked very loosely and connected with strings of pearls.

“Instead, she wore her blue silk shirt and tied her hair up as usual. She thought the photo made her look rather pale and hollow-eyed. His expression was sterner and more worrying than she had expected. She sent it anyway.

Ms. Munro’s early success in Canada, where her first collection of short stories, “Dance of the Happy Shades” (1968), won the Governor General’s Literary Award, the equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, was is widespread in the United States after its news. began publication in the New Yorker in 1977. She was an important member of a generation of Canadian writers, along with Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, whose fame extended far beyond the country’s borders.

Ms. Munro went on to win the Governor General’s Award twice, as well as two Giller Prizes, another major national award in Canada, and numerous other honors. In 2009, she withdrew her collection “Too Much Happiness” from consideration for another Giller because she thought a young writer should have a chance to win it.

The same year, she was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for her body of work, which the judges described as “practically perfect.” The awards committee noted that although she was best known as a writer of short stories, “she brings as much depth, wisdom and precision to each story as most novelists bring to a lifetime of novels.”

“Reading Alice Munro means learning something you’ve never thought of before,” the judges said.

As her multi-layered style developed, her short stories were no longer short or simply stories: she included 15 stories in her first book, but only eight or nine longer ones in some of her longer collections. recent. The greater length of each story allowed him to more deeply explore the psychological profiles of his characters, and the resulting works are tightly woven tapestries of great tension, lasting resonance, and breadth stunning novels that combine the emotional thrust of a novel with the precise power of story. a masterful poem.

As the years passed, her stories seemed to become darker and more paradoxical, although she often described her own life as ordinary and generally optimistic. His characters were often simple people facing unusual circumstances. But these situations can be strange, even bizarre, like an accident in which a soldier returning from war is decapitated after his sleeve gets caught in a factory machine, or the actions of an unattractive young girl who steals so much money to his parents. store to pay boys for sex that her parents are forced to declare bankruptcy. The women in his stories tended to be emotionally transfixed: divorced women, adulterers, and nobles who were victims of the vicissitudes of life.

Like Faulkner, Eudora Welty and the other Southern writers she admired, Ms. Munro was capable of bringing to life an entire world – for her, the unwelcome countryside of southwestern Ontario and the placid, sometimes menacing presence, of Lake Huron.

Cynthia Ozick called him “our Chekhov” and the description stuck.

In a review of “Too Much Happiness” published in 2009, Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times described the collection’s title as “a brilliant distillation of his Chekhovian art.”

Ms. Munro was able to live a life remarkable for its normalcy. His days, like those of his characters, were filled with daily routines punctuated by the explosive mystery of chance and accidents.

Apart from a decade spent on the west coast of Canada during her first marriage, she lived with great satisfaction in the Ontario bramble which she celebrated in her stories, composing them quietly in the house where her second husband grew up , not far from where she was born.

Perhaps the question that most preoccupied her throughout her long career was why, with her abundant talents and keen eye, she confined herself to what is generally considered the limited world of short story rather than launching into the scintillating world of the novel.

“I don’t really understand a novel,” Ms. Munro confessed to Mervyn Rothstein of the Times in a 1986 interview. “I don’t understand where the excitement is supposed to come from in a novel, and I understand it in a story . There’s a kind of tension that if I understand a story well, I can feel it immediately.

While one of her early collections, “Lives of Girls and Women,” is sometimes referred to as a novel, Ms. Munro and her longtime editor at Alfred A. Knopf, Ann Close, considered it a collection of linked stories .

“Once I started writing that, I left,” she told The Paris Review. “Then I made a big mistake. I tried to make it an ordinary novel, a sort of ordinary childhood and adolescence novel. Around March, I saw that it wasn’t working. It didn’t feel right and I thought I should abandon it. I was very depressed. Then I realized what I needed to do was take it apart and put it into story form. Then I could handle it.

Sometimes she swore she would never write a novel – almost dismissing the challenge as too great for her to attempt. But at other times, she seemed to wonder wistfully, as one of her characters would, how different her life might have been if she had written a bestselling novel.

“I’m thinking about something now, about how this could be a novel, but I bet it won’t,” she said in a 1998 interview, just after her widely published collection. acclaimed “A Good Woman’s Love.” She confessed that on occasion she had tried to expand her stories into novels, but said she found that the stories “started to sag” when she did so, as if they were pushed beyond…

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News Source : www.nytimes.com


With a penchant for words, Eleon Smith began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, Smith landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, Eleon also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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