Canada’s Alice Munro won the Nobel literature prize on Thursday for her short stories that focus on the frailties of the human condition, becoming just the 13th woman to win in the history of the coveted award.
The Swedish Academy honoured Munro, 82, as a “master of the contemporary short story”.
It hailed her “finely tuned storytelling, which is characterised by clarity and psychological realism. Some critics consider her a Canadian Chekhov.”
“Her stories are often set in small town environments, where the struggle for a socially acceptable existence often results in strained relationships and moral conflicts — problems that stem from generational differences and colliding life ambitions,” it said.
Tipped as one of the favourites in the days before Thursday’s announcement, Munro is just the 13th woman to win the Nobel literature prize since it was first awarded in 1901.
She is also the first Canadian to win the prestigious honour.
Munro will receive the prize sum of eight million Swedish kronor ($1.24 million, 915,000 euros).
She will be presented with her award at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.
Last year, the award went to Chinese novelist Mo Yan.
Alice Munro sets her taut, acutely observed stories in the rural Ontario countryside where she grew up, focusing a stark lens on the frailties of the human condition.
Despite her vast success and an impressive list of literary prizes awarded over the past four decades, Munro, 82, remains as unassuming and modest as the characters in her collections of short stories and novels.
These are usually women who do not fit the normal stereotype of the beautiful, ravishing heroine, possibly reflecting the puritan values of her childhood.
“She is not a socialite. She is actually rarely seen in public, and does not go on book tours,” commented American literary critic David Homel.
As brilliant, dignified and elegant as Munro is, she is sometimes described as the complete opposite of another great dame of Canadian literature — Margaret Atwood.
Born on July 10, 1931 in Wingham, Ontario, she grew up in the countryside. Her father Robert Eric Laidlaw raised foxes and poultry, while her mother was a small town schoolteacher.
At just 11 years old, she decided she wanted to be a writer, and never wavered in her career choice.
“I think maybe I was successful in doing this because I didn’t have any other talents,” she explained in an interview posted on YouTube.
“I’m not really an intellectual,” Munro said. “I was an okay housewife but I wasn’t that great. There was never anything else that I was really drawn to doing so nothing interfered in the way life interferes for so many people.”
“It always does seem like magic to me.”
Munro’s first story “The Dimensions of a Shadow” was published in 1950 while she was studying at the University of Western Ontario.
It was at school that she met her first husband James Munro. The couple married in 1951 and moved to Vancouver in westernmost Canada, where they raised three girls.
In 1963, they bought a house in Victoria and opened a bookstore, Munro’s Books, described by author Allan Fotheringham as “the most magnificent bookstore in Canada, possibly in North America.”
Munro was three times awarded the Governor General’s Award for fiction, first for “Dance of the Happy Shades” published in 1968. “Who Do You Think You Are” (1978) and “The Progress of Love” (1986) also won Canada’s highest literary honor.
Her short stories often appeared in the pages of prestigious magazines such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, with her latest collection “Dear Life” appearing in 2012.