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January, 2008


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The Extraordinary Alice Munro
Stratospheric and unique
By  Mark London

In the Canadian writing stratosphere inhabited by the likes of Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Morley Callaghan, Margaret Laurence, Michael Ondaatje, and Jane Urquhart, among others, there is one woman who has shone like starlight and withstood the sands of time. Her name: Alice Munro.

If you are not familiar with Canadian writers, some of the best can be found grouped together at the Argot Language Center, but today we are here to reveal Alice Munro. A woman who, for over 50 years, has written some of the most wonderful stories ever put to page.

In the imagination and memories of most Canadians and international readers alike, Munro conjures small town story settings. Her stories frame a cornucopia of life crafted in such a way that impels the reader to follow along and experience the world of rural Ontario. Her latest and supposedly last book, The View From The Castle Rock, puts the icing on an amazing writing career that has won her every significant writing prize, with the exception of a Nobel.

Imagine, she's 75 years of age and still has the fortitude to write and assemble approximately 130 short stories, each almost a novel in themselves. Once again, she presents her insights into small town life and delves deep into the core of her characters.

A solitary figure, Alice has always liked the quiet of the country and has tried to avoid the concrete jungles where her publishers operate. Writing has been a lifelong occupation for her. In order for her to create such wonderfully written pieces, she has spent most of her life alone in her room while her husband and family lived in the rest of the house. This is not to imply that she never paid attention to her family, only to further display her perseverance and dedication to her writing.

That dedication paid off in many ways, including winning the following awards:

  • Libris Award
  • W.H. Smith Award
  • Commonwealth Writers Prize
  • National Book Critics' Circle Award
  • Lannan Literary Award
  • PEN/Malamud Prize
  • REA Award
  • U.S. National Arts Club Medal of Honour
  • Marian Engel Award
  • Canadian Booksellers Award
  • O. Henry Award
  • Trillium Award
  • Three Govenor General's Awards (one of the most prestigious literary awards in Canada)
  • Two Giller Prizes

Numerous times she's been offered the Order of Canada, an extremely significant recognition of her writing achievements; however, she always declines. And to top all of this off, the recognition in no way whatsoever went to her head. She still answers all of her own emails, letters, and communications personally, does not have a secretary, or an assistant in her midst, handles all of her writing affairs herself and even shops at thrift stores.

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She allows a limited number of interviews each year under the condition that all of them must be in person and in the town of Goderich, Ontario. Goderich is just a short distance from her home in Clinton and 35 kilometres (about 20 miles) from her birthplace of Wingham. The other interesting eccentricity of meeting with her is that she insists that the meetings take place at a restaurant called Bailey's Fine Dining where she and the proprietor are very close friends.

At the pinnacle of her career, Alice Munro will retire. Over the next few years, many other well-established authors will also retire. Life is a cycle and with that cycle, new writers will attempt to fill the gap left behind. In Alice Munro's case, there is no one who will ever be able to capture small town Ontario settings and characters the way that she has so masterfully done it. This writer, and all of her readers, will sorely miss her if her new novel, The View From The Castle Rock, is truly her last book. 
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Mark London is a Toronto based freelance writer and associate editor of IN who has been with the FWO-Int'l from the early years volunteering much of his time in assisting young writers' careers. Email : talktome@canoemail.com

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