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Munro's Books in Victoria, B.C., scene of Alice Munro celebration

FILE - This June 25, 2009 file photo shows Canadian Author Alice Munro at a press conference at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Munro has won the 2013 Nobel Prize in literature Thursday Oct. 10, 2013.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Peter Morrison, file
October 10, 2013 - 9:28 AM

VICTORIA - Alice Munro tried selling other people's books for years, but the deeper she dove into the book-selling business, the more she believed she could write her own stories.

Munro's former husband, Jim Munro, said the author who won the Nobel Prize for literature on Thursday tried her best to be a businesswoman at the bookstore they launched in 1963, but she eventually quit selling and started writing — her true calling.

In its announcement, the Swedish Academy lauded Ontario-born Munro, 82, as a "master of the contemporary short story."

Munro, who became the 110th Nobel laureate in literature and only the 13th woman to receive the distinction, was in Victoria when word went about her prestigious win.

The typically media-shy literary star gave few interviews, but told The Canadian Press she never thought she would win.

"It's really very wonderful," she said.

Jim Munro, who turned 84 on Thursday, was full praise as he stood inside Munro's Books, the iconic 50-year-old downtown Victoria bookstore, which he and Alice started together.

"One time, working in the store, she said, 'I can write better than these people,' so from then on she quit the store and stayed home and wrote," he said.

Jim Munro said her greatest gift as a writer is her constant ability to make her stories immediately believable and her characters real.

"She's always had that skill," he said. "Extremely observant. Very meticulous, very good with dialogue. With a short story you have to make a person seem real very quickly and she does that."

At Munro's Books, staff were changing front-window displays to highlight Munro's award and put the spotlight on her latest collection of short stories, "Dear Life." A guest book was left at the front counter for people to write notes of congratulations to Munro.

Jim Munro said Alice Munro was in the store recently for a book signing.

"She's quite frail," he said. "Certainly not up for TV interviews."

Jim Munro said he spoke to his former wife about her Nobel prize.

"She's pretty well bowled over by it," he said. "But I'm not surprised because I've seen other people who have won the award and her writing is certainly on the quality."

Victoria resident Kyla Graham arrived at Munro's Books shortly after it opened and bought several copies of "Dear Life."

She said she was planning to give the books as gifts, including one for her sister, an aspiring writer.

"It's exciting there's a local connection as well with Munro's Books and the fact they started the bookstore here 50 years ago," she said.

While the esteemed prize is certainly the highest peak of the literary award landscape, Munro is no stranger to accolades.

She has previously won the Man Booker International Prize for her entire body of work, as well as two Scotiabank Giller Prizes (for 1998's ``The Love of a Good Woman'' and 2004's ``Runaway''), three Governor General's Literary Awards (for her 1968 debut ``Dance of the Happy Shades,'' 1978's ``Who Do You Think You Are?'' and 1986's ``The Progress of Love''), the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, the inaugural Marian Engel Award and the American National Book Critics Circle Award.

When she won the Man Booker International in 2009, prize judge chairwoman Jane Smiley noted that "the surface of Alice Munro's works, its simplicity and quiet appearance, is a deceptive thing, that beneath that surface is a store of insight, a body of observation, and a world of wisdom that is close to addictive.''

Canadian authors ecstatic over Munro's Nobel Prize win: 'She truly is our Chekhov'

Victoria Ahearn

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."Canadian authors ecstatic over Munro's Nobel Prize win: 'She truly is our Chekhov'

Facts about Alice Munro, first Canadian woman to win Nobel Prize for literature

Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize for literature. A look at her life:

Age: 82

From: Born in Wingham, Ont. She now splits her time between Clinton, Ont., and Comox, B.C.

First work published: 1968's short-story collection "Dance of the Happy Shades," which won a Governor General's Literary Award.

Most recent work published: 2012's "Dear Life."

Awards Munro has previously won: Three Governor General's Literary Awards, two Scotiabank Giller Prizes, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Man Booker International Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Trillium Book Award, the Rea Award for the Short Story, the Marian Engel Award.

Did you know? Munro and her first husband, James, opened Munro's Books in Victoria's Old Town in 1963 — exactly 50 years ago. The store mainly stocked paperbacks at a time when it wasn't fashionable to do so. The store has switched locations twice but remains open a half-century later.

A list of books by Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro

Here is a list of short story collections by Alice Munro, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday:

"Dance of the Happy Shades," 1968

"Lives of Girls and Women," 1971

"Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You," 1974

"Who Do You Think You Are?" 1978 ("The Beggar Maid" in U.S. editions)

"The Moons of Jupiter," 1982

"The Progress of Love," 1986

"Friend of My Youth," 1990

"Open Secrets," 1994

"Selected Stories," 1996

"The Love of a Good Woman," 1998

"Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage," 2001

"No Love Lost," 2003

"Vintage Munro," 2004 (collection of previously released stories)

"Runaway," 2004

"The View From Castle Rock," 2006

"Too Much Happiness," 2009

"Dear Life," 2012

News from © The Canadian Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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