Who Is Alice Munro, And Why Should You Care?

9780679732716In case you missed it (you didn’t, I just want to keep typing it over and over again), the great Alice Munro has won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Let me explain why I am suffused with joy, and then I will share the reactions of others, and then I will tell you what to read.

Alice Munro is both Canadian and a woman, which is already enough to make us unconditionally support anyone in an international competition who has not actually committed a hate crime. Her first collection was published at the age of 37. Her ex-husband is happy for her. She has, over and over again, reminded us that a truly great writer does not require that her characters go anywhere or do anything in particular. She understands that the inner life of an individual woman is all the scope one could possibly need in order to create beauty and sorrow and joy. Each of her short stories is a novel. Her one novel is a short story. She has never needed to write a novel, but wrote one anyway, and it’s perfect. She is better at what she does than anyone else. She has finished her writing. She has never moved to New York. She is a great woman. Let’s hear from others.

***

Michelle Dean, Canadian female writer:
“I’ve had lovely #feelings about this pretty much all day. I’m thrilled, of course, and also sort of questioning why I’m so thrilled, why it should matter to me so much. Some of the answer, which I’m trying to get a longer piece together on, is being from the same part of the world as Alice Munro. As a person who loves books and believes they should reach across experiences, I keep trying to tell me that it shouldn’t matter that she writes about areas and people that I know so well. But it does, it does.”

Anna Fitzpatrick, Canadian female writer:

“I have to go to work now barf but before I do I will just say that the mere existence of “Lives of Girls and Women” is a counterargument to everything David Gilmour does, has done, or will do.”

“Though I should add that my day job is at an INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE in CANADA so I take back the barf because we will probably be recognizing MunroDay today.”

Cathy Gildiner, Canadian female writer:

“I was thrilled as was everyone at the gym this morning. She basically owns the short story. I liked her early work best.  DANCE OF THE HAPPY SHADES and LIVES OF GIRLS AND WOMEN. I came from the States and she was the only person who really explained Canada to me.  For anyone who thinks the American and Canadian psyches are similar–they should read her and they will be disabused of that myth.  The Scottish small town of the 30’s screams to be heard.”

Kate Harding, Canadian female writer:

“1) Have you ever met someone who doesn’t love Alice Munro? I literally never have. Or at least, not anyone who would admit it–but I also feel like, how could you not? She seems like the most charming person, on top of writing stories that burrow inside you and continue delivering tiny electric shocks to your heart and brain for days after you read them.

2) 106 Nobel Prizes for literature. 13 to women. Fuck yeah, Alice Munro.

3) I love that you described her work as “small novels,” as opposed to short stories. I mean, tell me “The Albanian Virgin” is not a novel.

4) When she announced her retirement, and everybody was all, “Waaah, no fair retiring at 82! We demand more!” she politely suggested that folks just go reread her previous books. And fuck themselves, although that was unspoken. I have never loved her more.

That is all.”

Jane Hu, Canadian female writer:

“Can my reaction be: “ABOUT TIME?” or “LAFKDHLF;YAOEWFIJO8′;7YIVZCV”

Or, “When you’re a bookish Canadian girl coming of age in the 90s, Alice Munro means more than one can almost bear.””

My cousin Anne, Canadian female forestry expert and prodigious reader:
“Hi Nicky, It was 1971, I was in first year university, there was a book published, ‘The Lives of Girls and Women”, I had never seen those words strung together in a book or in writing of any importance. Even the protagonist’s name escapes me but the concept that they, we are significant in literature, that we can make, stuck with me. The only image of Alice Munro making the rounds for years showed her as some fusty aging woman in a bizarre hair band but now I see photos of her looking very loose and glam in her ‘80s. I wonder if she would have won the Nobel Prize if the New Yorker had not started publishing her? Love, Anne”

***

Now, what should you read? There are no wrong answers here. I want to tell you to start at the beginning and go all the way through, but instead I will just give you a jumping-off point.

This interview with the Paris Review – I just wanted to put every word into this post, because it is maybe the greatest interview I have ever read, and the details of her young writing life and her motherhood are extraordinary and you have NO EXCUSE not to write.

“The View From Castle Rock” and “Amundsen” and “Dear Life” and “Face” and “Deep-Holes” and “Free Radicals” and “Dimension” – The most important Alice Munro is always just the Alice Munro you can read immediately online without having to leave your desk or bed.

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose (Indiebound | Amazon) – When I was a lass, hoping to learn how to be a woman, I read this over and over again. At the time, it was called Who Do You Think You Are?, which I think is a better title, and also basically a mantra for young women, when you think about it. A slur or a put-down which can be turned inward and made a celebration.

Dear Life: Stories (Indiebound | Amazon) – You would absolutely want this to be the last collection of short stories you write. Just draw a line under it and go feed your chickens.

Lives of Girls and Women: A Novel (Indiebound | Amazon) – Look, the novel! There is literally nothing wrong with it.

The Progress of Love (Indiebound | Amazon) – Perfection.

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