In Praise Of: Alice Munro

10th Jul 2012

Alice Munro is arguably amongst the most important living writers we have. Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize, three time winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Award for Fiction, and a repetitive contender for the Nobel Prize for Fiction, you’d have a hard time arguing that Munro is not an important writer.

Born 10th July 1938 in Ontario, Canada to parents Robert Eric Laidlaw (a fox and poultry farmer) and Anne Clarke Laidlaw (a school teacher), Alice Munro began her prestigious writing career as a teenager.

She studied at the University of Western Ontario where she majored in English and had her first story The Dimensions of a Shadow published during this time.

After marrying James Munro and moving to Vancouver, she gave birth to three daughters, Sheila, Catherine (who died shortly after birth), and Jenny.

In 1963 she gave birth to her fourth daughter Andrea, and opened Munro’s Books, which is still in business today. James and Alice divorced in 1972.

Alice Munro returned to her university as the writer in residence, where she met her second husband Gerald Fremlin.

Munro’s status as a writer developed quickly as she was praised for her first short story collection Dance of the Happy Shades in 1968 and won her first Governor General’s Award.

Her success and appraisal continued throughout her following publications Lives of Girls and Women and Who Do You Think You Are? With which she won her second Governor General’s Award.

Throughout the rest of the eighties, nineties and noughties, Alice Munro continued to publish work on a semi-regular basis, though suggested during an interview in 2006 as part of her The View from Castle Rock tour that she may not publish any further work, but has gone on to suggest that her future writing may deal with the theme of sexual ambivalence.

Munro has even gained popularity and appraisal in the world of film with her story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” adapted by Sarah Polley for the film Away From Her.

The film débuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screen Play (though narrowly missed out on the award to No Country for Old Men).

As well as her own short story collections, her stories have appeared in publications including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Atlantic Monthly, to name just a few of the prestigious publications.

For her seventeen published collections, Alice Munro has received as many (it’s actually two more) awards and honours for her work. Her tendency to base her work in her town of origin combined with a narrator that challenges customs and traditions is an inspiring trait for such an internationally renowned author.

Her work has often been said to fit in to the Southern Ontario Gothic genre and it cannot be ignored that Munro’s success is cheering for any writer who finds inspiration from their own region and home surroundings.

She says she deals with “love and work, and the failings of both” which produces fiction that can be adored and appreciated from readers of all walks of life. I praise Alice Munro because she deals with everyday life and produces award winning writing from this.

I am excited by her work because she is continuously producing modern classic literature, and has refused to move away from short story writing despite the general unpopularity of the form (it is unpopular with mainstream publishers, despite being much loved by many readers).

I am in awe of her writing style and her ability to place the ordinary with the extraordinary, and to turn basic sentences in to works of art. For her originality, for her consistency, for her continued work, I wish Alice Munro a very happy birthday indeed.

Which of Alice Munro’s collections have you loved? Do you take inspiration for her work? Tell us about your experiences…


  • Jackie Downs says:

    Lovely piece, Gina. Like you, I also love the way Munro can span decades in the lives of characters in just a few pages, and tell you who someone is, what they are now, and how they got that way, really incisively.

  • Patrick Gormley says:

    Currently in my sickbed reading runaway by Alice Munro which my articulate daughter threw at me yesterday in protest against my obstinacy at reading short stories
    Well I can only say I am overwhelmed by the comfort I am feeling at such precise literate storytelling!
    The style and observance of ordinary human engagement evokes heart rending emotions.
    I’ve got rid of the tablets and looking forward to Christmas lunch and a big goblet of amareno!!!
    Just buy it .