Alice Munro Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Alice Munro
Alice Munro
 Getty Images

Alice Munro, a Canadian master of the short story revered as a thorough but forgiving chronicler of the human spirit, won the Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday.

Munro is the first Canadian writer to receive the prestigious $1.2 million award from the Swedish Academy since Saul Bellow, who left for the U.S. as a boy and won in 1976.

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Seen as a contemporary Chekhov for her warmth, insight and compassion, she has captured a wide range of lives and personalities without passing judgment on her characters. Unusually for Nobel winners, Munro's work consists almost entirely of short stories. Lives of Girls and Women is her only novel.

"I knew I was in the running, yes, but I never thought I would win," the 82-year-old said by telephone when contacted by The Canadian Press in Victoria, British Columbia.

She later released a statement through her publisher Random House. "I am dazed by all the attention and affection that has been coming my way this morning," she said. 

"When I began writing there was a very small community of Canadian writers and little attention was paid by the world. Now Canadian writers are read, admired and respected around the globe. I’m so thrilled to be chosen as this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature recipient. I hope it fosters further interest in all Canadian writers. I also hope that this brings further recognition to the short story form."
 
Munro is beloved among her peers, from Lorrie Moore and George Saunders to Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Franzen. She is equally admired by critics. She won a National Book Critics Circle prize for Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage and is a three-time winner of the Governor General's prize, Canada's highest literary honor.

Her stories are usually set in Ontario, her home province. Among her best known is The Bear Came Over the Mountain, the story of a woman who begins losing her memory and agrees with her husband that she should be placed in a nursing home.

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The narrative begins in a relatively tender, traditional mood. But we soon learn that the husband has been unfaithful in the past and didn't always regret it — "What he felt was mainly a gigantic increase in well-being." The wife, meanwhile, has fallen for a man at the nursing home.

Writer-director Sarah Polley adapted the story for her the big screen with 2006's Oscar-nominated Away From Her.

Munro's publisher, Penguin Random House, welcomed the award with "jubilation and great pride," and sent "joyous good wishes to our beloved author and to our family of her publishers and editors." Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper congratulated Munro on Twitter "on behalf of all Canadians."

The award is likely to be the capstone to Munro's career. She told Canada's National Post in June that she was "probably not going to write anymore."

In announcing the Nobel Prize, the Swedish Academy called her a "master of the contemporary short story." The academy's permanent secretary, Peter Englund, said he had not managed to get hold of her but left a message on her answering machine.

"She has taken an art form, the short story, which has tended to come a little bit in the shadow behind the novel, and she has cultivated it almost to perfection," Englund told The Associated Press

Munro is the 13th female literature laureate in the 112-year history of the Nobel Prizes.

Last year's Nobel literature award went to Mo Yan of China.

The 2013 Nobel announcements continue Friday with the Nobel Peace Prize, followed by the economics prize on Monday. The awards will be handed to the winners on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.

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