TORONTO – Canadian writers reacted with ecstatic pride to Thursday’s announcement that cherished homegrown short story master Alice Munro had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, saying it was long-overdue and richly deserved.
“She’s so perfect. I’m thrilled,” said Joan Barfoot from London, Ont., in southwestern Ontario, where Munro grew up.
“I’ve read every word she’s ever written and just thought, ‘This is perfection.'”
“I think my first thought was ‘Finally,'” said Toronto-based Wayson Choy.
“She has caught human beings and their interactions in such a way that the ambiguity between people is made vivid and meaningful.”
Winnipeg’s David Bergen said he “got all teary-eyed” when he heard the news.
“I thought, ‘Oh, that’s just marvellous,’ and then I met someone else on the street who teaches at the university … and we talked about it and she said she got all teary-eyed, too.”
The 82-year-old Wingham, Ont., native is the 110th Nobel laureate in literature and only the 13th woman to receive the distinction, which the typically modest author called “quite wonderful” in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press shortly after the announcement.
She’s also just the second Canadian-born author to receive the honour after Saul Bellow in 1976. Though he was born in Lachine, Que., he moved to Chicago at age eight.
By contrast, Munro has stayed in Canada throughout her career, and is beloved for writing about its culture, landscape and small-town characters in a way that makes them feel universal.
Her first collection of short stories, 1968’s “Dance of the Happy Shades,” won a Governor General’s Literary Award as did her ’78 collection “Who Do You Think You Are?”
Munro’s long list of honours also includes two Scotiabank Giller prizes and the Man Booker International Prize. Her fiction has also been regularly featured in the New Yorker, and her story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” was adapted into Sarah Polley’s acclaimed film “Away From Her.”
“I think in some ways, the short story form that she uses almost belies her power,” said Bergen. “She’s conquered the form, absolutely, and it’s immeasurable.
“A short story is incredibly difficult to write and also it takes up a lot of energy, and what has always amazed me about her is that when she puts 12 short stories into a collection, basically what she’s done is write 12 novels. And as a writer, you know that she’s taken up a lot of her power and focus and introspection to come to those stories.
“It must be draining, but she does it beautifully.”
Barfoot recalled reading Munro’s “Lives of Girls and Women” when she was young and recognizing the spirit of the “rocky-souled” characters and geography.
“Her work does the whole world. It’s not Clinton-Wingham, or little places in B.C. It’s everywhere,” she said.
“She has a way of writing sentences that take a long time to read a short story, because you have to stop every other sentence and say, ‘Ah’ to yourself. She writes very capacious short stories.
“I’ve written several novels that could fit nicely into one of her short stories, probably. They are impeccable.”
Choy said he was first introduced to Munro in the ’60s at the creative writing school at the University of British Columbia and “could tell that this was only the beginning.”
“I just had that feeling. You read one story of hers and you think you’ve read a novel,” he said.
“The characters become one complete and collected community, and that’s the community of neighbours and people we know.
“She truly is our Chekhov.”
Novelist and short story writer Marina Endicott said Munro “deserves (the Nobel) more than anybody” and she planned to teach the author’s short story “Dimension” to her class at the University of Aberta on Thursday.
“‘Dimension’ is a story about a woman whose husband has killed their children. She wrote it when she was at least in her 70s and it’s just another example of her incredible ability to inhabit a life that she can’t have any physical experience of, but she has that huge capacity of understanding.”