Canadian short story writer Alice Munro has won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Swedish Academy cited her as a “master of the contemporary short story.”
She is the first Canadian author to be so honored; Saul Bellow, who won in 1976, was born in Canada, but is almost universally regarded as an American writer, having spent the vast majority of his life in Chicago. According to the Associated Press, Munro is the 13th woman to win the literature prize since its inception in 1901 — and the first since Herta Müller won in 2009.
Having chosen Munro as the winner, the Swedish Academy was then faced with the predicament of actually telling the author — who lives in rural Ontario — that she had won, a problem that was resolved with somewhat traditional means:
Munro is, indeed, a more traditional choice than past laureates, with some critics having long charged that the Nobel is awarded for a strange brew of politics and obscurity as opposed to actual literary merit. Munro is both renowned and commercially successful. And she comes from an Anglophone country of low political wattage.
Munro's sensibilities are deeply rooted in place — namely, the rural Canadian landscape of Huron County, Ontario, where she was born in 1931. She remains a resident of the region, making her current home in the small town of Clinton.
Something of a late literary bloomer, Munro did not publish her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, until 1968, when she was 37. Subsequent collections "[explore] the tangled relationships between men and women, small-town existence and the fallibility of memory," writes Julie Bosman of The New York Times.
A bibliographical note from the Swedish Academy praises the intimacy of her writing, which offers a counterpoint to the sweeping narratives of last year's winner, the Chinese novelist Mo Yan:
Munro is acclaimed for her finely tuned storytelling, which is characterized 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.
Munro had actually announced earlier this year that she was retiring from writing, telling the National Post that "It's nice to go out with a bang."
Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami had been the favorite, according to British betting site Ladbrokes, but Munro's odds had recently shot up. Munro's win makes it two decades since an American writer has won the Nobel. The last to do so was Toni Morrison in 1993.