As has always been the case in the writing of Alice Munro, the 2013 Nobel laureate for literature, one need examine only a small fragment of a single story to see the full implications of her work as a whole.
Alice Munro is widely recognized as being among the greatest living authors writing in English, and her latest volume of stories, just now being released in paperback, inspires, as the title suggests, almost Too Much Happiness—her thirteenth book in a nearly sixty-year career. The collection reads with the headlong rush of both a thriller and a romance. In ten stories, told with equal power and precision from male and female perspectives, Munro explores how people do and don't move on with their lives after losing what they thought they couldn't live without.
An interview with Alice Munro begins precisely on time, and always with a quick, friendly, personal exchange of greetings and news. Then we’re off on an odyssey in which a couple of hours fly by as we discuss her stories and how they came to be. Munro's conversational voice is so similar to the sound, diction, and rhythms of her writing, that every reader of her work already knows how she speaks. In her down-to-earth manner, she presents complex ideas in concrete, understandable ways.
Michael Cunningham, novelist
Alice Munro tells the large stories of people whose lives are outwardly small. Rarely does she write about the exceptional outsider. She is a great champion of ordinary outsiders, of people who in small and crucia [...]
Sometime in the late 1970s, Alice Munro made a policy of refusing prizes that didn’t specifically honor the quality of her fiction. When the Canadian government offered her one of its highest honors in 1983—an appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada, which would have entitled her to a pretty, gold-edged medal with the motto Desiderantes meliorem patriam (“They desire a better country”) emblazoned around a gold maple leaf—Munro politely declined. She didn’t feel comfortable, she said, with awards that celebrated celebrity. Only awards that had been earned by particular books or by particular groups of books were okay. Munro was fifty-two by then, and several such awards had already been placed, like love letters, upon her books.
Alice Munro tells the large stories of people whose lives are outwardly small. Rarely does she write about the exceptional outsider. She is a great champion of ordinary outsiders, of people who in small and crucial ways don’t fit, who need a better [...]
There is nothing exotic or off-putting in the opening paragraph or two of an Alice Munro story. The author puts her hand on your shoulder and invites you into her fictional world. She is friendly, and there is a neighborly quality to her narrative prose. She starts in a small place and universalizes characters and lives that we might otherwise overlook. It is as if you are sitting at a table, and she’s going to tell you a story of what happened a while back, down the street. Her intimate tone is interesting and immediate, and she is relaxed, calm, even inactive, almost seductive. Then, once you are in this fictional world, it becomes more threatening.
Alice Munro has always been a writer’s writer, and she has also become, for a short story writer, highly popular, simply for doing what she does. I believe that one of her great pieces of luck was living in Canada and being the person she is [...]
Alice Munro grew up in an era in which women were expected to be mothers, teachers, or nurses. You wouldn’t have concluded that you were going to be a writer. But sometimes necessity creates these talents. The Canadian market is a fraction of the size of the US market, which makes it so much harder to earn a living doing what you love to do. Yet geographically, Canada is so large, artists couldn’t just gather together the way they did in the Village in New York. So CBC—Canadian public radio—became that thin line that connected people across distances and gave hope that all this was possible.
I opened my own literary agency in 1974, and Alice became my client in 1976—after her third book, Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You. At that time, her writing was relatively new to the US market, and I was still developing my network in the publishing world. Anybody would have been happy to represent a writer like Alice Munro. I was doubly excited by her work because she was a woman writer of such power and, I was sure, true distinction. Lives of Girls and Women, which Alice published in 1971, impressed me for many reasons. It was a coming-of-age story about a young girl, and while I was accustomed to reading an initiation-to-life story with a young boy as the central character, this was as powerful as anything I had read. I admired the way her work was conscious of social structures that girls and women were expected to abide by.