Ian Willms for The New York Times
By JULIE BOSMAN
The New York Times: October 10, 2013
Alice Munro, the renowned Canadian short-story writer whose visceral work explores the tangled relationships between men and women, small-town existence and the fallibility of memory, won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday.
Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy said that Ms. Munro, 82, who has written 14 story collections, was a “master of the contemporary short story.” She is the 13th woman to win the prize.
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.
Ms. Munro, widely beloved for her spare and psychologically astute fiction that is deeply revealing of human nature, appeared to be more of a purely literary choice. She revolutionized the architecture of short stories, often beginning a story in an unexpected place then moving backward or forward in time, and brought a modesty and subtle wit to her work that admirers often traced to her background growing up in rural Canada.
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.
She also seemed to have finished paying attention to major literary awards, if she ever did in the first place. On Thursday morning, the Swedish Academy was unable to locate Ms. Munro before it made the announcement public, according to the Twitter account for the Nobel Prize. A phone message was left instead.
Ms. Munro, who lives in Clinton, a town in Ontario, eventually found out that she had won while visiting her daughter in Victoria, British Columbia, who woke her at 4 a.m. with the news. Sounding a bit groggy, and at times emotional, she spoke with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation just a few minutes later by telephone.
“It just seems impossible,” she said. “It seems just so splendid a thing to happen, I can’t describe it. It’s more than I can say.”
She later added, “I would really hope this would make people see the short story as an important art, not just something you played around with until you got a novel.”
Waking up to the news that Ms. Munro was the winner, her admirers were jubilant, especially in Canada.
Stephen Harper, the prime minister, issued a statement praising Ms. Munro as the first Canadian woman to win the Nobel in literature. “Canadians are enormously proud of this remarkable accomplishment, which is the culmination of a lifetime of brilliant writing,” he said.
On Twitter, congratulations rolled in from publishers, literary magazines and fellow writers including Margaret Atwood and Nathan Englander.
“A true master of the form,” Salman Rushdie wrote.
Readers used Twitter to send messages with Munro quotations. (“The constant happiness is curiosity” was one favorite.) Some people wondered if Ms. Munro’s honor was an indication that the short story was entering a golden age; most Nobel winners tend to focus on novels or poems.
Ms. Munro knew that she wanted to be a writer from the time that she was a teenager and wrote consistently while she helped her first husband, James Munro, run a bookstore and raise their three daughters.
She said she fell into writing short stories, the form that would make her famous, somewhat by accident.
“For years and years, I thought that stories were just practice, till I got time to write a novel,” she told The New Yorker in 2012. “Then I found that they were all I could do, and so I faced that. I suppose that my trying to get so much into stories has been a compensation.”
Her first collection, “Dance of the Happy Shades,” was published when she was 37.
Throughout her career, she has drawn from the setting of her home of rural Ontario and frequently expanded on themes of sex, desire, work, discontent and aging. One of her collections, “The Love of a Good Woman,” won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1998.
The Nobel, one of the most prestigious and lucrative prizes in the world, is given to a writer for a lifetime’s body of work, rather than a single novel, short story or collection. The winner receives eight million Swedish kronor, or about $1.2 million.
Winners in recent years have included Mo Yan of China, in 2012; the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, in 2011; Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian writer, in 2010; and, in 2009, Herta Müller, a Romanian-born German novelist and essayist.
Each year, a handful of the same names are floated as contenders, including the Americans Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth and the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Mr. Roth and Ms. Munro were the subject of even more intense speculation than usual this year because they had made similar recent pronouncements that they were finished with writing.
The announcement continues a losing streak for American writers, who have been passed over for 20 years. The last American to win the prize was Toni Morrison, in 1993.
While both are celebrities in Canada, Ms. Munro’s public profile stands in contrast to that of Ms. Atwood, the country’s other internationally known writer. Ms. Munro rarely speaks out on public issues, while Ms. Atwood uses her fame, and Twitter, to comment on causes like the environmental impact of Canada’s oil sands.
But Ms. Munro’s low profile has not made her any less well known in Canada.
In a statement released by her American publisher, Knopf, she paid tribute to the Canadian literary circle.
“When I began writing, there was a very small community of Canadian writers and little attention was paid by the world,” she said. “Now Canadian writers are read, admired and respected around the globe.
She said she was thrilled to be chosen for the prize, adding, “I hope it fosters further interest in all Canadian writers.”
In an interview with The New York Times this year, Ms. Munro said that now that she is in her 80s, she isn’t as concerned about aging.
“I worry less than I did,” she said. “There’s nothing you can do about it, and it’s better than being dead. I feel that I’ve done what I wanted to do, and that makes me feel fairly content.”
Speaking to a reporter after the announcement of the prize, Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said that Ms. Munro is capable of a “fantastic portrayal of human beings.” Whether she is really finished writing, he said, is up to her.
“She has done a marvelous job,” Mr. Englund said. “What she has done is quite enough to win the Nobel Prize. If she wants to stop writing, that’s her decision.”
In a brief interview with Nobelprize.org, Ms. Munro explained that she had decided to stop writing because she had been working since she was about 20 years old.
“That’s a long time to be working, and I thought, maybe it’s time to take it easy,” she said. “But this may change my mind.”