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Munro's works well-known to city academics

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LOCAL author Margaret Sweatman was preparing to teach a class on creative writing Thursday morning and wondered if she would be able to get across to her students the genius of Alice Munro.

Turns out it wouldn't be a tough sell. Munro, the 82-year-old award-winning author from southern Ontario, had been selected as the recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in literature even earlier in the day, becoming the first Canadian woman to claim the international honour since its inception 112 years ago.

"It's recognition of an extraordinary artist," the associate professor in the English department at the University of Winnipeg said. "And it's really important for our country, it's important for women in this country, and it's extremely inspiring. It speaks to how you can achieve something in your lifetime based on the strength of your overall work."

The newly released paperback version of Munro's latest collection of short stories, entitled Dear Life (2012), was prominently displayed at McNally Robinson Booksellers Thursday, though store co-owner Chris Hall didn't expect them to be there long.

Both Sweatman and Hall see the connection between the Munro recognition and national pride. It's more than just a 'local woman wins award' (and the reactionary praise that comes with it) but rather a boost to the Canadian literature scene. Hall makes a good point on what the Nobel Prize could mean for the national writer on the international bookshelves in the coming months.

"Let's reverse this for a moment," he starts, "and talk about a Nobel Prize winner from any of the last several years. We'd be describing someone who we didn't know and we'd be introduced to a writer from China or Hungary, and people would read the latest book and maybe look further into the catalogue.

"All of a sudden, a reader in China or Hungary will say 'Oh, Alice Munro, never heard of her. Maybe I'll give it a try.' That's the power of the Nobel Prize. It really is worldwide. And all of Canadian writing elevates with that because people start to think about other Canadian authors, as well."

As one might expect, Munro's work is still a major focus among academics in this country.

"Is she taught? Absolutely. She's pretty prominent," said Neil Besner, vice-president academic and longtime English professor at the University of Winnipeg, as enthusiastic a Munro fan as you'll find among academia here.

Munro and Mavis Gallant are not only Canada's best short-story writers, they're among the best in the world, said Besner, who wrote a 3,000-word entry in the Encyclopedia of World Literature about Munro.

Besner has taught an honours English course exclusively on Munro, and "I've taught The Lives of Girls and Women, her attempt at a novel. I've written a book about Lives of Girls and Women."

University of Manitoba sessional instructor Roy Campbell said you'll find Munro's works throughout surveys of world literature courses.

"She's the greatest writer of short stories alive today, the greatest in 20 years," Campbell said. "She's always got this thin veneer of normality -- scratch it a little" and there's a bizarre world underneath, said Campbell.

The Winnipeg School Division said students would probably read a few of her short stories in grades 9 and 10, and senior high teachers would very likely teach her works in grades 11 and 12.

"As her earlier work is intent on exploring the coming of age of young girls -- longer works such as Lives of Girls and Women, and Who Do You Think You Are? -- are often offered to students as independent texts, or texts read in small group study," said the WSD.

"Her books appear on English-language arts school lists; Alice Munro would be one of the Canadian writers many of our ELA teachers would want their students to read and have some understanding of, (along with) Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, Alistair MacLeod, and Carol Shields."

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

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