Alice Munro Wins Nobel Prize in Literature
By JULIE BOSMAN
Published: 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. Ms. Munro, 82, is the 13th woman to win the prize.
Ian Willms for The New York Times
Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy said that Ms. Munro is a “master of the contemporary short story.”
Ms. Munro, who lives in Clinton, a town in Ontario, told a writer from The Toronto Globe and Mail earlier this year that she planned to retireafter “Dear Life,” her 14th story collection.
In a statement from Penguin Random House, her publisher, Ms. Munro said that she was “amazed, and very grateful.”
She added, “I’m particularly glad that winning this award will please so many Canadians,” she said. “I’m happy, too, that this will bring more attention to Canadian writing.”
Ms. Munro revolutionized the architecture of short stories, often beginning a story in an unexpected place and then moving backward or forward in time. She brought a modesty and subtle wit to her work that her admirers often traced to her background growing up in rural Canada. 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.”
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 8 million Swedish kronor, or about $1.2 million.
Previous winners in recent years include Mo Yan, a Chinese writer, in 2012; the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, in 2011; Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian writer, in 2010; and in 2009, Herta Müller, a Romanian-born German novelist and essayist.
The 18 members of the Swedish Academy choose the winner in secrecy and reveal the nominees 50 years after each award is announced.
Each year, a handful of the same names are floated as contenders, including the Americans Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth. This year, Ladbrokes, the British bookmaking firm, gave the odds to Haruki Murakami, the Japanese author of “1Q84,” at 5-2, followed by Ms. Munro, at 4-1.
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 Nobel Foundation does not allow for the prize to be awarded posthumously, unless the writer dies after the announcement of the prize.
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.
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 Ms. Munro 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.”
Though winners are traditionally notified by phone in the hour before the announcement, the Swedish Academy was unable to locate Ms. Munro, according to the Twitter accountfor the Nobel Prize. It left a phone message instead.
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.
Her first collection, “Dance of the Happy Shades,” was published when she was 37.
Ms. Munro found out about the prize while visiting her daughter in Victoria, British Columbia who woke her at 4:00 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. It seems just so splendid a thing to happen, I can’t describe it, it’s more than I can say,” she said. 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.”