Alice Munro was born in 1931 in Wingham, a small town in southwestern
Ontario, to a family of small farmers. She began writing stories at the age of
12. She won a two-year scholarship to the University of Western Ontario.
While at school she published several short stories in the student literary
magazine. She left before graduating due to money troubles, and in order
to marry another student, James Munro. The Munros raised three daughters and for
several years ran a bookshop in Victoria; they eventually divorced and Alice
Munro married Gerald Fremlin, a geographer. The Fremlins divide their time
between Clinton, Ontario--not far from Munro's hometown of Wingham--and Comox,
She says that the turning point for her writing came in 1959 when she wrote "The Peace of Utrecht", a story about her mother becoming ill from Parkinson's when Munro was 12. Exploring her personal pain helped her develop a deeper, more reflective style in her writing. Her first collection, Dances of the Happy Shades, was published in 1968 when she was 37.
In a 2001 interview Munro commented on how age has changed her perspective: "When I was thirty, if I'd tried to write about someone dying of cancer, I would have been overwhelmed by the tragedy of it. Just growing older has an effect. It's the simple experience of where I am in life."
She is the three-time winner of the Governor General's Literary Award, Canada's highest; the Lannan Literary Award; and the W. H. Smith Award, given to Open Secrets as the best book published in the United Kingdom in 1995. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, and other publications, and her collections have been translated into thirteen languages.
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A Conversation with Alice Munro
What draws you to short stories as opposed to novels? What do you find
that the shorter form enables you to do that a novel perhaps would not?
I seem to turn out stories that violate the discipline of the short story form and don't obey the rules of progression for novels. I don't think about a particular form, I think more about fiction, let's say a chunk of fiction. What do I want to do? I want to tell a story, in the old-fashioned way--what happens to somebody--but I want that 'what happens' to be delivered with quite a bit of interruption, turnarounds, and strangeness. I want the reader to feel something is astonishing--not the 'what happens' but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me.
Where do you get the idea for a story or for a particular character?
Sometimes I get the start of a story from a memory, an anecdote, but that gets lost and is usually unrecognizable in the final story. Suppose you have--in memory--a young woman stepping off a train in an outfit so elegant her family is compelled to take her down a peg (as happened to me once), and it somehow becomes a wife who's been recovering from a ...
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