"In twenty years I've never had a day when I didn't have to think about someone else's needs. And this means the writing has to be fitted around it." -- Alice Munro
Alice Ann Munro (née Laidlaw; born 10 July 1931) is a Canadian short-story writer, winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work, three-time winner of Canada's Governor General's Award for fiction, and a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize. Generally regarded to be one of the world's foremost writers of fiction, her stories focus on the human condition and relationships seen through the lens of daily life. While the locus of Munro’s fiction is Southwestern Ontario, her reputation as a short-story writer is international. Her "accessible, moving stories" explore human complexities in a seemingly effortless style. Munro's writing has established her as "one of our greatest contemporary writers of fiction," or, as Cynthia Ozick put it, "our Chekhov."
"I can't play bridge. I don't play tennis. All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn't seemed time for. But what there is time for is looking out the window.""I want the reader to feel something is astonishing. Not the 'what happens,' but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me.""In my own work, I tend to cover a lot of time and to jump back and forward in time, and sometimes the way I do this is not very straightforward.""Memory is the way we keep telling ourselves our stories - and telling other people a somewhat different version of our stories.""Sometimes I get the start of a story from a memory, an anecdote, but that gets lost and is usually unrecognizable in the final story.""That's something I think is growing on me as I get older: happy endings.""The complexity of things - the things within things - just seems to be endless. I mean nothing is easy, nothing is simple.""The deep, personal material of the latter half of your life is your children. You can write about your parents when they're gone, but your children are still going to be here, and you're going to want them to come and visit you in the nursing home.""The stories are not autobiographical, but they're personal in that way. I seem to know only the things that I've learned. Probably some things through observation, but what I feel I know surely is personal."
Munro was born in the town of Wingham, Ontario into a family of fox and poultry farmers. Her father was Robert Eric Laidlaw and her mother, a school teacher, was Anne Clarke Laidlaw (née Chamney). She began writing as a teenager and published her first story, "The Dimensions of a Shadow," while a student at the University of Western Ontario in 1950. During this period she worked as a waitress, tobacco picker and library clerk. In 1951, she left the university, in which she had been majoring in English since 1949, to marry James Munro and move to Vancouver, British Columbia. Her daughters Sheila, Catherine, and Jenny were born in 1953, 1955, and 1957 respectively; Catherine died 15 hours after birth. In 1963, the Munros moved to Victoria where they opened Munro's Books. In 1966, their daughter Andrea was born. Alice and James Munro were divorced in 1972. She returned to Ontario to become Writer-in-Residence at the University of Western Ontario. In 1976 she married Gerald Fremlin, a geographer. The couple moved to a farm outside Clinton, Ontario. They have since moved from the farm to a house in the town of Clinton.
Alice Munro's first collection of stories, Dance of the Happy Shades 1968, was highly acclaimed and won that year’s Governor General's Award, Canada’s highest literary prize. This success was followed by Lives of Girls and Women 1971, a collection of interlinked stories that was published as a novel. In 1978, Munro's collection of interlinked stories, Who Do You Think You Are?, was published (titled The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose in the United States). This book earned Munro the Governor General’s Literary Award for a second time. From 1979 to 1982, she toured Australia, China and Scandinavia. In 1980 Munro held the position of Writer-in-Residence at both the University of British Columbia and the University of Queensland. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Munro published a short-story collection about once every four years to increasing acclaim, winning both national and international awards. In 2002, her daughter Sheila Munro published a childhood memoir, Lives of Mothers and Daughters: Growing Up With Alice Munro.
Alice Munro's stories frequently appear in publications such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Grand Street, Mademoiselle, and The Paris Review. In interviews to promote her 2006 collection The View from Castle Rock, Munro suggested that she would, perhaps, not publish any further collections. She has since recanted and published further work. Her latest collection, Too Much Happiness, was published in August 2009. Her story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" has been adapted for the screen and directed by Sarah Polley as the film Away from Her, starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. It successfully debuted at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. Polley's adaptation was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, but lost to No Country for Old Men.
At a Toronto appearance in October 2009, Munro indicated that she received treatment for cancer and a heart condition, the latter situation requiring bypass surgery. At that time, she indicated that her next work would involve a theme of sexual ambivalence.
Many of Munro's stories are set in Huron County, Ontario. Her strong regional focus is one of the features of her fiction. Another is the omniscient narrator who serves to make sense of the world. Many compare Munro's small-town settings to writers of the U.S. rural South. As in the works of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, her characters often confront deep-rooted customs and traditions. However, the reaction of Munro's characters is less intense than their Southern counterparts'. Thus, particularly with respect to her male characters, she may be said to capture the essence of everyman. Her female characters, though, are more complex. Much of Munro's work exemplifies the literary genre known as Southern Ontario Gothic.
Munro's work is often compared with the great short story writers. For example, the American writer Cynthia Ozick called Munro "our Chekhov." In Munro stories, as in Chekhov's, plot is secondary and "little happens." As with Chekhov, Garan Holcombe notes: "All is based on the epiphanic moment, the sudden enlightenment, the concise, subtle, revelatory detail." Munro's work deals with "love and work, and the failings of both. She shares Chekhov’s obsession with time and our much-lamented inability to delay or prevent its relentless movement forward."
A frequent theme of her work...particularly evident in her early stories...has been the dilemmas of a girl coming of age and coming to terms with her family and the small town she grew up in. In recent work such as Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001) and Runaway (2004) she has shifted her focus to the travails of middle age, of women alone and of the elderly. It is a mark of her style for characters to experience a revelation that sheds light on, and gives meaning to, an event.
Munro's spare and lucid language and command of detail gives her fiction a "remarkable precision," as Helen Hoy observes. Munro's prose reveals the ambiguities of life: "ironic and serious at the same time," "mottoes of godliness and honor and flaming bigotry," "special, useless knowledge," "tones of shrill and happy outrage," "the bad taste, the heartlessness, the joy of it." Her style places the fantastic next to the ordinary with each undercutting the other in ways that simply, and effortlessly, evoke life. As Robert Thacker notes: "Munro's writing creates ... an empathetic union among readers, critics most apparent among them. We are drawn to her writing by its verisimilitude...not of mimesis, so-called and... 'realism'...but rather the feeling of being itself... of just being a human being." Many critics have asserted that Munro's stories often have the emotional and literary depth of novels. The question of whether Munro actually writes short-stories or novels has often been asked. Alex Keegan, writing in Eclectica, has a simple answer: "Who cares? In most Munro stories there is as much as in many novels."
Besner, Neil Kalman. Introducing Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women: a reader's guide. Toronto: ECW Press, 1990.
Blodgett, E. D. Alice Munro. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.
Carrington, Ildikó de Papp. Controlling the Uncontrollable: the fiction of Alice Munro. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1989.
Carscallen, James. The Other Country: patterns in the writing of Alice Munro. Toronto: ECW Press, 1993.
Cox, Alisa. Alice Munro. Tavistock: Northcote House, 2004.
Hallvard, Dahlie. Alice Munro and Her Works. Toronto: ECW Press, 1984.
Hebel, Ajay. The Tumble of Reason: Alice Munro's discourse of absence. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994.
Hooper, Brad The Fiction of Alice Munro: An Appreciation Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 2008, ISBN 978-0-275-99121-0
Howells, Coral Ann. Alice Munro. New York: Manchester University Press, 1998, ISBN 978-0-7190-4558-5
MacKendrick, Louis King. Some Other Reality: Alice Munro's Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You. Toronto: ECW Press, 1993.
Martin, W.R. Alice Munro: paradox and parallel. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1987.
McCaig, JoAnn. Reading In: Alice Munro's archives. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2002.
Miller, Judith, ed. The Art of Alice Munro: saying the unsayable: papers from the Waterloo conference. Waterloo: Waterloo Press, 1984.
Munro, Sheila. Lives of Mother and Daughters: growing up with Alice Munro. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2001.
Pfaus, B. Alice Munro. Ottawa: Golden Dog Press, 1984.
Rasporich, Beverly Jean. Dance of the Sexes: art and gender in the fiction of Alice Munro. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1990.
Redekop, Magdalene. Mothers and Other Clowns: the stories of Alice Munro. New York: Routledge, 1992.
Ross, Catherine Sheldrick. Alice Munro: a double life. Toronto: ECW Press, 1992.
Smythe, Karen E. Figuring Grief: Gallant, Munro and the poetics of elegy. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1992.
Steele, Apollonia and Tener, Jean F., editors. The Alice Munro Papers: Second Accession. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1987.
Thacker, Robert. Alice Munro: writing her lives: a biography. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2005.
Thacker, Robert. Ed. The Rest of the Story: critical essays on Alice Munro. Toronto: ECW Press, 1999.
Awano, Lisa Dickler. "Appreciations of Alice Munro." Virginia Quarterly Review 82.3 (Summer 2006): 91-107. Interviews with various authors (Margaret Atwood, Russell Banks, Michael Cunningham, Charles McGrath, Daniel Menaker and others) presented in first-person essay format.
Beran, Carol. "The Pursuit of Happiness: A Study of Alice Munro's Fiction." Social Science Journal. 2000. 37.3 (2000): 329.
Buitenhuis, Peter. "The Wilds of the Past." Books in Canada 19.4 (May 1990): 19.
Canitz, Christa. and Seamon, Roger. "The Rhetoric of Fictional Realism in the Stories of Alice Munro." Canadian Literature. 150 (Autumn 1996): 67.
Clark, Miriam Marty. "Allegories of Reading in Alice Munro's 'Carried Away.'" Contemporary Literature. 37.1 (Spring 1996):49.
Creighton, David. "In Search of Alice Munro." Books in Canada 23.4 (May 1994): 19.
Crouse, David. "Resisting Reduction." Canadian Literature. 146 (Autumn 1995):51.
de Papp Carrington, Ildiko. "Definitions of a Fool: Alice Munro's 'Walking on Water.'" Studies in Short Fiction. 28.2 (Spring 1991):135.
de Papp Carrington, Ildiko."'Don't Tell (on) Daddy': Narrative Complexity in Alice Munro's 'the Love of a Good Woman.'" Studies in Short Fiction. 33.2 (Spring 1997): 159.
de Papp Carrington, Ildiko. "Talking Dirty: Alice Munro's 'Open Secrets' and John Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men.'" Studies in Short Fiction. 31.4 (Fall 1994): 595.
de Papp Carrington, Ildiko."What's in a Title?: Alice Munro's 'Carried Away.'" Studies in Short Fiction. 20.4 (Fall 1993): 555.
Elliott, Gayle. "A Different Track: Feminist meta-narrative in Alice Munro's 'Friend of My Youth.'" Journal of Modern Literature. 20.1 (Summer 1996): 75.
Fowler, Rowena. "The Art of Alice Munro: The Beggar Maid and Lives of Girls and Women." Critique. 25.4 (Summer 1984): 189.
Garson, Marjorie. "Alice Munro and Charlotte Bronte." University of Toronto Quarterly. 69.4 (Fall 2000): 783.