VICTORIA – Alice Munro tried selling other people’s books for years, but the deeper she dove into the book-selling business, the more she believed she could write her own stories.
Munro’s former husband, Jim Munro, said the author who won the Nobel Prize for literature on Thursday tried her best to be a businesswoman at the bookstore they launched in 1963, but she eventually quit selling and started writing — her true calling.
In its announcement, the Swedish Academy lauded Ontario-born Munro, 82, as a “master of the contemporary short story.”
Munro, who became the 110th Nobel laureate in literature and only the 13th woman to receive the distinction, was in Victoria when word went about her prestigious win.
The typically media-shy literary star gave few interviews, but told The Canadian Press she never thought she would win.
“It’s really very wonderful,” she said.
Jim Munro, who turned 84 on Thursday, was full praise as he stood inside Munro’s Books, the iconic 50-year-old downtown Victoria bookstore, which he and Alice started together.
“One time, working in the store, she said, ‘I can write better than these people,’ so from then on she quit the store and stayed home and wrote,” he said.
Jim Munro said her greatest gift as a writer is her constant ability to make her stories immediately believable and her characters real.
“She’s always had that skill,” he said. “Extremely observant. Very meticulous, very good with dialogue. With a short story you have to make a person seem real very quickly and she does that.”
At Munro’s Books, staff were changing front-window displays to highlight Munro’s award and put the spotlight on her latest collection of short stories, “Dear Life.” A guest book was left at the front counter for people to write notes of congratulations to Munro.
Jim Munro said Alice Munro was in the store recently for a book signing.
“She’s quite frail,” he said. “Certainly not up for TV interviews.”
Jim Munro said he spoke to his former wife about her Nobel prize.
“She’s pretty well bowled over by it,” he said. “But I’m not surprised because I’ve seen other people who have won the award and her writing is certainly on the quality.”
Victoria resident Kyla Graham arrived at Munro’s Books shortly after it opened and bought several copies of “Dear Life.”
She said she was planning to give the books as gifts, including one for her sister, an aspiring writer.
“It’s exciting there’s a local connection as well with Munro’s Books and the fact they started the bookstore here 50 years ago,” she said.
While the esteemed prize is certainly the highest peak of the literary award landscape, Munro is no stranger to accolades.
She has previously won the Man Booker International Prize for her entire body of work, as well as two Scotiabank Giller Prizes (for 1998’s “The Love of a Good Woman” and 2004’s “Runaway”), three Governor General’s Literary Awards (for her 1968 debut “Dance of the Happy Shades,” 1978’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” and 1986’s “The Progress of Love”), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the inaugural Marian Engel Award and the American National Book Critics Circle Award.
When she won the Man Booker International in 2009, prize judge chairwoman Jane Smiley noted that “the surface of Alice Munro’s works, its simplicity and quiet appearance, is a deceptive thing, that beneath that surface is a store of insight, a body of observation, and a world of wisdom that is close to addictive.”