Alice Munro: 5 interesting facts

Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro's works are known for their strong focus on life in small-town southwestern Ontario.

Nobel Prize winner's literary work known for focus on life in rural Ontario

Alice Munro attends the opening night of the International Festival of Authors in Toronto on Oct. 21, 2009. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Canadian author Alice Munro has received many literary awards in her writing career, the latest of which is the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Honoured for her prowess creating short stories, the 82-year-old’s works include Lives of Girls and Women, Who Do You Think You Are? and a 2012 collection of stories, Dear Life.

In 2004, author Jonathan Franzen wrote in the New York Times that Munro "has a strong claim to being the best fiction writer now working in North America."

Here are five facts about Munro and her writing.

Writing style

Munro’s stories are known for their strong regional focus on small-town southwestern Ontario, a place she knew from her years growing up in Huron County. They give insight into deeply personal and complex experiences and often revolve around her characters' personal epiphanies, which happen when current events reveal an overlooked aspect of the past.

Munro has a longstanding relationship with several publications, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly and The Paris Review. The New Yorker's Chip McGrath was Munro's first editor.

Canadian roots

Munro was born on July 10, 1931, in Wingham, Ont., to Robert Eric Laidlaw, a fox and mink farmer, and Anne Clarke Laidlaw, a school teacher.

At 19, she published her first story, The Dimensions of a Shadow, in Folio, a student literary magazine, while she was a student at the University of Western Ontario in London. During her time at university, she worked as a waitress, tobacco picker and library clerk.

She then moved to British Columbia with her first husband, James Munro. In 1963, they moved to Victoria, where Munro founded a popular bookstore.

Munro's Books still stands today and celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year.   

Champion of her early work

In 1951, she started corresponding with Robert Weaver, an acclaimed literary editor and broadcaster, whom she credits as one of the first people to take her writing seriously.

Weaver created programs such as CBC Stage, CBC Playhouse, Canadian Short Stories and Anthology, where Munro's work appeared prior to Dance of the Happy Shades, her first published collection of stories.

Coming home  

When Munro returned from British Columbia to southwestern Ontario, not everyone was glad to have her back. Some Huron County residents complained that her stories were too closely based on locals' experiences.  

At the time, a local newspaper accused Munro of making the people of Wingham "the butt of soured and cruel introspection,” as she noted in a letter to the editor of the Montreal Gazette in 1982.

Munro wrote that she wanted to make it clear "that I passed no such judgment."

"Indeed, I always found Wingham lively and interesting."

She later said the local hostility subsided.

Wingham now has a literary garden to honour the renowned author, but the house where she grew up has changed. It is now a beauty parlour and its kitchen no longer exists.

"I thought if I did [go back], I’d ask to see the living room. There’s the fireplace my father built and I’d like to see that," Munro told the Paris Review in an interview.

Movie adaptation

Two of Munro’s stories have formed the basis for films.

The Bear Came Over the Mountain was adapted into the movie, Away from Her, which was directed by Canadian actor and filmmaker Sarah Polley. It stars Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent.

The movie debuted at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival and Polley was nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.

The story Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage was also adapted for film. Hateship Loveship premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last month.


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