It was announced yesterday that Canadian short-fiction writer Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Munro published her first collection of stories nearly half a century ago and has since published over a dozen books. Her latest, Dear Life, won the International Man Booker Prize and is to be her last book. The 82-year-old is only the 13th woman to ever win the prestigious award (shameful, considering this is the 106th time it’s been awarded) and the first ever Canadian.
For anyone who has read Munro, the award comes as no surprise. Dubbed the “Chekov of Canada”, her particular brand of psychological realism is frequently set in small towns and expresses the enormity of everyday life. In her stories, people face life–shattering events, suppress relentless yearnings, experience personal revelations, and are haunted by their memories. For the right reader, a Munro story can be life-changing.
Munro should be honored not just for her immense talent, but for the stereotype-busting subject matter she chooses. Her writing is often dark, gruesome and unabashedly “unfeminine” in the traditional sense, refusing to shy away from the grit and small tragedies of human existence.
Munro’s win is not just a triumph for women, it is also a triumph for the genre of short fiction. Many are delightfully surprised to see the under-appreciated art form get the recognition it deserves, especially because the Nobel Prize historically favors poets or novelists. Too often the short story is demeaned as novel-writing practice or deemed unmarketable in the publishing industry. Munro, writing almost exclusively in this powerful, condensed genre, has broken down barriers for future generations of writers and brought renewed attention to the form.
If for some reason you have yet to engulf yourself in one of Munro’s collections, immediately locate the most comfortable chair in the vicinity and start reading. A Munro story is by no means a feel-good fairy tale, but, if you’re like me, you will be forever changed after you enter her world of strained human interactions, quiet desperation and irrefutable truths.
Melissa McGlensey recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a B.A. in English and Spanish with a minor in creative writing; she is currently interning at Ms.