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Alice Munro: Nobel Prize in Literature

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10/21/2013 12:52:24 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
ALICE MUNRO: Some Personal Reflections on Her Oeuvre

She and I are into different stuff".

Part 1:

A Canadian, Alice Munro now 82, won the Nobel Prize for Literature last week, on 10 October 2013, as the autumn season was adding its richest colours to many places in Canada.(1) Like the Australian Patrick White, who has been the only Australian ever to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, Munro is the only Canadian to ever have won that coveted award. Saul Bellow, the 1976 prize winner, lived in Quebec until he was nearly 10 but, then, he and his family moved to Chicago; he has always been typically seen as an American writer with much of his work set in that third most populous city in the USA.

White"s novels are epic. They possess a psychological narrative art which introduced into world literature both the Australian continent and the complex human psyche found Downunder. The clinical psychologist Ronald Conway unwrapped that psyche in his several book-length analyses of the Australian character. It is getting more difficult to generalize and define that character in the increasingly multi-cultural society that is found in the antipodes. But that does not prevent students and scholars from trying.

I found Conway's works useful when teaching psychology to post-secondary school students in several Australian states from the 1970s to the 2000s. I also remember teaching one of White"s novels back in the early 1990s when I was a lecturer in English literature in western Australia.

Munro, though, is not a novelist. She"s into short stories, and has been since her teens back in the 1940s. These were the years just after I was born, and not far from Huron country in Ontario where Munro started her life. It also looks like she will end her years there in western Ontario sometime in the next few years--whether she continues writing or not.

Part 2:

Munro has been frequently omitted from conventional lists of the greatest writers of her age. This is due, perhaps, to her chosen form, the short story, as well as the apparent narrowness of her literary palette. Most of her works explore the warp and weft of small-town life in western Ontario. Fans praise her ability to express, in brutally honed sentences, not just the nature of small human hardships and dilemmas, but the very feeling of living within them. The world hardly needs to be introduced to small town life, though, in Ontario or anywhere else.

Colm To"bin(1955-), the Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic and poet, described one of Munro"s stories as "tough, tough, but yet written using sentences of the most ordinary kind, and constructed with slow Chekhovian care". Readers unfamiliar with Chekhov, or with Alice Munro"s work, can now buy her collections of short stories which book-stores will be marketing with some zeal in the weeks ahead.

It"s not small town life that will excite and please readers. Rather, it is the fact that Munro"s writing is a great example of the writer who illuminates universal themes by writing about the seemingly small and particular. Most people"s lives deal with the small and the particular. Increasingly, though, people are inhabiting a universal, a planetizing, a globalizing, world seen through the lens of the print and electronic media. But peoples" lives are still lived, for the most part, in a small, small place of family and friends, job and local interests.

"Her traditional-seeming stories are anything but," wrote one reviewer. "She"ll shift multiple points of view or time schemes " hair-raisingly complicated stuff " not to show off formally but to find a means of packing her stories with maximum density. She"s the most savage writer I"ve ever read, also the most tender, the most honest, the most perceptive."

Part 3:

The only short-stories I remember reading were in high school. I grew up in a small town in Ontario, and then spent many years in other small towns in: other parts of Ontario, in the Canadian Arctic and in several states of Australia.

The Swedish Academy said it picked the 82-year-old author"known for her easy-to-read writing style charting the struggles and moral conflicts of everyday characters in rural Ontario"because she is the "master of the contemporary short story." Fellow Canadian writer and much more well-known, Margaret Atwood, said of Munro in her introduction to a collection of Munro's stories: "The wallowing in the seamier and meaner and more vengeful undersides of human nature, the telling of erotic secrets, the nostalgia for vanished miseries, and rejoicing in the fullness and variety of life, stirred all together: this is Alice Munro."

Part 4:

After her 20 year marriage ended in 1972 when she was 40, Munro moved back to Ontario, remarried and continued to set most of her stories in the small-town environs of Huron County, which she says caused her the 'level of irritation' she needed for writing. Huron county is in the southwest part of Ontario. The county seat is Goderich, also the county's largest settlement.

I remember going to Goderich back in the 1950s to a youth camp organized by one of the denominations of Protestantism. It was during the hottest part of a Canadian summer. I had become more interested in the Baha"i Faith at the time, and this Faith still holds my allegiance. I never joined the folds of any one of the many sects and denominations of that major branch of Christianity. I don"t recall ever going to Huron county again after that summer. Oh, and just for the record, Munro says that her religion is "fiction."

Part 5:

My life has been so very different from Munro"s. My first marriage of 8 years ended in 1973 when I was 29. That was the year Patrick White won the Nobel Prize. I was living in South Australia at the time and teaching high school. I then moved on to Tasmania, and remarried in 1975. I had moved to Australia from Canada when I was 26. Munro got divorced that same year.

Munro published her first story in 1950 at the age of 19. I was only six back in 1950. She knew she wanted to be a writer just about from the word go. A writer"s life has only grown slowly on me, by sensible and insensible degrees, from my teens and 20s into to my mid-50s when I took an early retirement at the age of 55 from the teaching profession, and a 50 year student-working life: 1949 to 1999.

Part 6:

I read novels at high school, and very occasionally over the decades, especially historical fiction. I taught them in the late 1980s and early 1990s in my role as a literature teacher in Australia. The rest of my 60 year reading life from 1953 to 2013, has been as a student-and-teacher, lecturer and tutor, writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, online blogger, journalist and scholar, among many other roles and statuses over my 70 years in the lifespan.

Reading novels has always been at the periphery of my intellectual life, a life filled with the social sciences, autobiography and biography, as well as the physical, biological and applied sciences. Reading short stories can been even further out among the literary stars in the galaxy that has been my reading life. -Ron Price with thanks to: (1) several major newspapers, as well as book and literature sites for their reviews of Munro"s writing and her life.

Part 7:

I hardly knew you, Alice.
We shared life in a small
town in Ontario, and we"ve
both written a great deal, eh?

But that is just about where
this comparison of our two
lives ends. What can I say,
Alice? Congratulations are
certainly in order, but you"ll
never know me as much as I
know you. You are rich and
famous, & I am one of many
millions of "also-rans" in that
literary world which we both
share in such different ways.

I wish you well as you go on to
finish your life before entering
that hole from which none of us
Married for 48 years, a teacher for 32, a student for 18, a writer and editor for 16, and a Baha'i for 56(in 2015)
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10/21/2013 1:24:46 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
This is great. :)

So do you like her stories much? It's kind of unclear to me whether you're giving her your own praise or summarizing other people's positive reviews.
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10/21/2013 2:59:57 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 10/21/2013 1:24:46 AM, rross wrote:
This is great. :)

So do you like her stories much? It's kind of unclear to me whether you're giving her your own praise or summarizing other people's positive reviews.
I take an interest in the writing and lives of people in the literary world. My reading interests are, for the most part though, not in the world of novels and short stories, as you will see if you go to my website at:
Married for 48 years, a teacher for 32, a student for 18, a writer and editor for 16, and a Baha'i for 56(in 2015)