Skip To Content

Athabasca University

Alice Munro

Alice Munro is a major Canadian author highly acclaimed as a contemporary master of the short story. Between 1968 and the present she has published fifteen collections of short fiction. She is also well know for contributing short stories to such esteemed periodicals as The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Atlantic Monthly.

Munro has been lauded in Canada and awarded internationally with highest literary honours. She has garnered Canada's Governor General Award for English-language fiction three times, is a two-time winner of the Giller Prize, and was presented the U.S. National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature. She has won the W. H. Smith Literary Award in the U.K., and the National Book Critics Circle Award and the O. Henry Award for Continuing Achievement in Short Fiction in the U.S. In 2009 Munro won the Man Booker International Prize for her life-long body of work. In 2013 Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first resident Canadian author to win this international honour.

Born 1932 in rural Ontario, Alice Laidlaw was the daughter of a schoolteacher and a fox and poultry farmer. Alice began writing as a teenager and published her first short story in 1950 while an English major at the University of Western Ontario. In 1951 Alice moved to Vancouver and became Mrs. James Munro. She was a suburban housewife and a new mother in the 1950's and 60's, as well as a writer and, along with her husband, a bookstore proprietor of Munro Books in Vancouver. In a speech given at the O. Henry Awards (2005) Munro told audiences:

To want to be a fiction writer, in the community where I grew up, and in the suburbs where I lived later, as a young housewife and mother, was such an outlandish notion that it never occurred to me to try to justify or explain it. I tried as much as I could to keep it secret. And at the same time, it never occurred to me to give it up.

In 1968 Munro published her first collection of stories, Dance of the Happy Shades which was very well-received and won that year's Governor General's Award. Her successful career continued with the publication of Lives of Girls and Women in 1971. Alice and James divorced in 1972 and she returned to Eastern Canada where she worked as a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Western Ontario. She remarried in 1976 and continues to live in Ontario. Munro has written short-fiction throughout the seventies, eighties, nineties, and to the present with increasing acclaim.

Alice Munro is one of very few contemporary authors who have very successfully worked solely in the short fiction genre, though that she has worked exclusively in that genre has been debated. Because Lives of Girls and Women was published as a novel, not as a short story collection, and Munro's collection of stories, The Beggar Maid (published in Canada under the title Who Do You Think You Are?), was nominated for the Man Booker Prize for novel, the author could reasonably be said to be a novelist, as well as a short-fiction writer. Both Lives of Girls and Women and Who Do You Think You Are can as easily be read as collections of inter-related stories though, than as novels, and so the novel/short-story debate is surely more relevant in terms of marketing books than reading literature.

Recurring plots and themes in Munro’s work include growing up female in small-town Ontario during the 40’s and 50's, the tension between intellect and rural life, familial relationships, and sexuality. Her stories, as the title of her first published collection aptly suggests, are largely focused on the Lives of Girls and Women. Munro's work is characterized by humour, poignancy, and excellence.

In 2002 Alice Munro's daughter Sheila published a childhood memoir / biography titled Lives of Mothers and Daughters: Growing Up With Alice Munro .(Marlene Wurfel)

Updated February 12 2015 by Student & Academic Services

AU, CANADA'S OPEN UNIVERSITY, is an internationally recognized leader in online and distance learning.