Posted by: Duncan Chowdhury | December 6, 2013

A Nobel Prize for the Master of Short Story Writer

Literature enthusiasts eagerly await the declaration of the Nobel Prize for Literature each year. The Nobel Prize has always been regarded as the most recognized award in the field of literature. This year the Royal Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, awarded Canadian short story writer Alice Munro as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for the year 2013.

Alice Munro has now come in the focus of inquisitive minds of book lovers throughout the world. Thousands throng now in the bookstalls for her books. It is not unusual for a Nobel Laureate’s book run short of stock. Munro’s case is not an exception, her books were already best sellers, unlike last year’s Nobel Prize winner for Literature Mo Yan  from China, who was hardly known internationally for his literary works. Munro had won the internationally acclaimed Man Booker International Prize in 2009 and she was already acclaimed short story writer, and her books published and widely circulated in the market.

She is the first Canadian writer to receive this prestigious 106th Nobel Prize in Literature and the 13th woman to receive it, since its inception in 1901.  Earlier, Canada born Saul Bellow was awarded this prize in 1976, however, Saul left Canada when he was nine and settled in the U.S. So he is not at all regarded as a Canadian to receive the Nobel Prize.

When Munro came to know about the award she instantly reacted to Doug Gibson her publisher , “I am amazed and very grateful. I am particularly glad that winning this award will please so many Canadians. I ‘m happy that this will bring attention to Canadian writing”. It is a matter of fact, that so far Canadian literature had little in focus in the realm of English Literature.

Munro has been writing since her teenage, she had seen the Great Depression in her childhood days and she grew up as a teenager during the Second World War. The settings for her writings had always been the rural atmosphere or small townships in Canada. The protagonists had been girls or young women, their struggle in life to get acceptance in the society, strained relationships and moral conflicts often been portrayed in her writings.  She had the ability to express ordinary incidents of ordinary people in a most extra ordinary way. Her easy-to-read style and free flow of writing attracted innumerous readership around the world.

Her publisher Gibson rightly explained, “Here we have a world prize being won by someone who writes about housewives in Vancouver, booksellers in Victoria, bean-farmers in Huron County and accountants and teachers and librarians – ordinary Canadian people, and she turns it into magic”.

The Nobel Committee regarded her as “Master of Contemporary Short Story”, also added that “Munro is acclaimed for her finely tuned storytelling, which is characterized by clarity and psychological realism.” They further said, “her texts often feature depictions of everyday but decisive events, epiphanies of a kind, that illuminate the surrounding story and let existential questions appear in a flash of lighting.” American writer Cynthia Ozick, compare her with Anthon Chekhov, the 19th Century Russian writer, the greatest short story writer of all times.

It has been said that short stories has always been ignored, when prominent literature awards are considered. Awarding Munro for the Nobel Prize broke this unexplained taboo, she has now secured her position in the top end of English Literature, inspite of being a short story writer only.

When asked about her focus on short story writing, she said, “For years and years I thought that stories were just practice, till I got time to write a novel. Then I found that they were all I could do, and so I faced that. I suppose that my trying to get so much into stories has been a compensation.”

In 2009 when she was awarded the Man Booker Award, the judge panel described, “Alice Munro is mostly known as  short story writer and yet she brings as much depth, wisdom and precision to every story as most novelists bring to a lifetime of novels. To read Alice Munro is to learn something every time that you never thought of before.”

Munro started writing in local magazines in the Fifties’. Later her first published work was ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’ in 1968. This acclaimed the Governor General’s Award, thus she came in the lime light from the very beginning. Then she continued her writing without a pause, her noteworthy short story collections are “Lives of Girls and Women” (1971), “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You” (1974), “The Beggar Maid” (1978), “Who do You Think You Are ?” (1978), “The Moons of Jupiter”(1982), “The Progress of Love”(1986), “Friend of My Youth”(1990), “Open Secrets”(1994), “The Love of Good Woman”(1998), “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage”(2001), “Runaway”(2004), “The View from Castle Rock”(2006), “Too Much Happiness”(2009),

The award winning film “Away from Her” released in 2006 directed by Sarah Polley was based on her book “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage”.

She was born in 1931 lived in Southwestern Ontario town of Clinton. Her father was a fox farmer and mother was a school teacher.  She studied journalism and English at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. She got married in 1951 and moved to Victoria, British Columbia with her husband and had to take care of a family bookstore for some time.

Alice Munro is now 82, she has been writing for more than four decades have recently decided to close the cap of her pen. This award has now led the world to know more about her writings, making her more popular, bringing Canadian English Literature on the center stage, and moreover, giving the opportunity to the readers of English Literature to rediscover short stories again.o

Duncan Chowdhury  is a YMCA Executive and writes from Hong Kong

(Published in The Daily Independent, 28 November 2013)

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