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Alice Munro  

The Canadian writer Alice Munro is noted for her short stories and her insights into the human condition. Now in her 80's, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 2013.
Last Updated: Aug 24, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Alice Munro (1931-)


Brief Biography

Alice Munro was born in Wingham, Ontario on July 10, 1931.  Her father was a fox farmer and her mother a schoolteacher.  Her family was not wealthy.  They were very hard working and respected for their diligence.  Munro ( her maiden name was  Laidlaw) began school in 1937.  In a few years, beginning with grade four, she attended school in a "better" part of Wingham.  It was a long walk to school but the little girl enjoyed the walk as she later related.  The long round trip continued until she graduated from high school in 1949.

Munro was an avid reader by age eleven.  She began to see herself as different than the other children.  She began to write poetry and while walking to school made up stories in her mind.  In 1943, her mother was showing symptoms of Parkinson's disease and her father's business began to fail.   Munro had to take on family chores and look after her brother and sister.  She accepted these roles without complaint.  Her high school years, despite her family responsiblities, were happy ones.  She excelled in her studies and in 1949 graduated as the class valedictorian.  She was given a two year scholarship at the University of Western Ontario.  At first she majored in journalism, but shifted to Honors English for her second year.  An excellent student she won the prize for the best grades in the major.  In 1950 her first story appeared in the school's literary magazine.  While in college, Alice met James Munro. They fell in love and after James earned his degree and accepted a job in Vancouver, the couple married and moved.  This was in 1951.  Alice was only 20 years old and while her new husband was not a writer, he supported his wife's work and ambitions and bought her a new typewriter.  They had two daughters ( a third died as an infant) and settled into a conventional middle class life.  Munro met Robert Weaver, a producer working for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  He encouraged the budding author and broadcast several of her stories. 

In 1963, James and Alice decided to open a bookstore and moved to Victoria.  The years 1963-66 were happy ones for the couple.   Alice gave birth to another daughter and the growing family moved to a large house--much to Alice's dislike.  The sale affected her marriage as did the social changes occuring in the 1960's.  Alice approved of the changes, her conservative husband did not.   Alice's first collection of stories was published in 1968.  The collection won a literary award and was very well received.  Another collection appeared in 1971.

In the early 1970's Munro realized her marriage was faltering and in 1973 she left Victoria and moved back to Ontario, settling in London.  She was appointed writer in residence at the University of Western Ontario for 1974-75.  More books followed.  For example, in 1978 her collection of interlinked stories earned her a second Governor General's Literary Award.  She was writer in residence at the University of British Columbia and the University of Queensland in 1980.   Since the 1980's Munro has published a short story collection at least every four years.  Her stories have appeared in "The Atlantic Monthly," 'Harper's Magazine," and "The Paris Review."  In 2013, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, for her mastery of the contemporary short story.

 Many of Munro's stories are set in Ontario.  She writes about ordinary people living in small, Canadian towns.  Her stories are complex, often with the underlying themes of relationship problems and moral conflicts.  The relationship between memory and reality is another theme.  Her skill at showing how seemingly trivial events can shape a person's life is especially noteworthy.  Readers of her stories can relate to her characters and  the carefully crafted stories cause them to reflect on their own lives.




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