Library staff at the University of Calgary are overjoyed that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature and are celebrating the foresight of collecting an archive of her letters and manuscripts for decades.
Annie Murray, the curator of rare books and manuscripts at the Taylor Family Digital Library, says it was a good decision many years ago.
'It's the kind of news that makes librarians and archivists do backflips.' - U of C curator Annie Murray
"Back in the '70s and the '80s, the U of C was still a relatively new university and they made a conscious decision to collect what they called at the time 'Canadian creativity.'"
"They made strategic decisions to support Canadian culture by acquiring Canadian archives of authors, poets, playwrights, architects, artists, composers," says Murray. "It showed a lot of foresight on the part of the head librarian at the time and the curators who built the collection."
Murray says she didn't have much of a reputation yet.
"Alice Munro, for example, had only really been published in a short story collection about five or six years when they first approached her so she was still sort-of an emerging writer even though her first collection won a Governor General's Award."
First shipment in 1980
After many years of negotiating with Munro, they began receiving shipments in the early '80s says Murray.
"The first shipment came in a truck and a suitcase and initially Alice Munro didn't think she would have that many archives to give but it turns out she did," she said.
"She kept many drafts and because she had started writing in the '50s she had all her older material by the time it came in 1980, so it was a very large first shipment," says Murray.
Murray has had the opportunity to look through the archives many times and says it is a great resource.
"It's awe inspiring to go through the archives of a writer because you see their development over time and you read little fragments in a notebook and you think 'Oh my, this became the story Dulse which was in The Moons of Jupiter' and you can see the story change over the different drafts that she produced."
Murray says even before the Nobel win the archives were quite busy.
"A lot of scholars and students research Alice Munro. She has a very international profile because many of her stories have come out in the New Yorker first before they were published as collected stories."
"Students admire her, writers love her and researchers from all over the world do criticism of her work because people can't understand how she does what she does and that's where the archives come in," says Murray.
One of the most exciting parts, says Murray, is being able to track the different drafts.
"She would write in long hand in notebooks ... eventually she would move to a typewriter, produce a first typed script and then maybe the New Yorker editor would comment on those. Eventually it would make its way to being a proof then it becomes a published story."
Murray says all the staff at the library are very pleased.
"Of course we've always believed she was deserving but it's tremendously exciting. It's the kind of news that makes librarians and archivists do backflips."