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Munro first Canadian woman to receive Nobel for literature

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Alice Munro is the 110th Nobel laureate in literature and only the 13th woman to receive the distinction.

CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Alice Munro is the 110th Nobel laureate in literature and only the 13th woman to receive the distinction.

TORONTO -- Book lovers around the globe celebrated Alice Munro's spare, elegant prose on Thursday when the Ontario-born author won the Nobel Prize for literature, but the reclusive short-story writer was typically succinct and humble in her reaction to the honour, calling it "quite wonderful."

"At this moment I can't believe it. It's really very wonderful," Munro told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview from Victoria just moments after the announcement was made in Stockholm.

"I knew I was in the running, yes, but I never thought I would win."

She added she was delighted and "just terribly surprised."

In making the announcement, the Swedish Academy lauded the 82-year-old as a "master of the contemporary short story." Munro becomes the 110th Nobel laureate in literature and only the 13th woman to receive the distinction.

'At this moment I can't believe it. It's really very wonderful'

-- Alice Munro

Soon after the news broke, media outlets around the world began clamouring to speak with the media-shy Munro. The author granted only a handful of interviews before her publisher, Random House of Canada, issued a statement saying she was "dazed by all the attention and affection" and would be saying nothing further.

Photographers, meanwhile, were asked to leave the hotel where Munro was staying, apparently at the request of the author.

Regarded as the world's highest literary honour, the Nobel puts Munro in the company of great wordsmiths including George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse, T.S. Eliot and Toni Morrison. Canadian-born, American-raised writer Saul Bellow won in 1976.

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: "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."

She had been considered a perennial contender for the Nobel, with British-based betting company Ladbrokes positioning her as the second-most-likely recipient this year behind Japanese master Haruki Murakami. The prize money fluctuates, but last year's Nobel was worth roughly $1.3 million.

The award will no doubt introduce legions of new readers to Munro's exquisite portraits of quiet moments and small-town life.

Reaction to those who have been touched by her work was swift and rapturous.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne cited Munro's Lives of Girls and Women as a favourite, adding she is "part of a lucky population who has been forever changed by (Munro's) unparalleled ability to articulate the complexity and heartbreaks of everyday life."

Born in 1931 in the southwestern Ontario farming community of Wingham, Munro later moved to Victoria with her first husband, with whom she had three children.

The couple eventually divorced and Munro moved back to Ontario. She eventually remarried Gerald Fremlin, who died earlier this year.

This past June, she told the National Post she was "probably not going to write anymore."

But in an interview posted Thursday afternoon on the Nobel Prize website, Munro suggested there may be more stories ahead.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Who is your favourite character in Canadian literature? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 11, 2013 A6

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