Munro, 82, was announced as the winner by Swedish Academy Permanent Secretary Peter Englund at 1pm at the academy in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan.
“The motivation was very short – we gave her the Nobel prize for Literature simply because she is the master of the contemporary short story. That’s it. If you’ve read Alice Munro, I think you’ll understand,” Englund told The Local shortly after.
Before he announced Munro’s name, Englund let the room full of journalists and members of the public know that the winner this year “would be a woman”, prompting the room to erupt with cheers.
Later on Thursday, Munro was finally reached for comment by Canadian Radio station CBS.
“It’s surprising and fantastic. My daughter woke me up and said, ‘Mamma, you’ve won!’,” she told the station.
“And I wondered what it is I won… I had no idea. I didn’t even know that I was on the list of candidates until just the other day.”
Munro’s writing career began when she was a teenager growing up in Ontario. She began studying journalism and English at the University of Western Ontario, but left university when she got married in 1951, eventually moving with her husband to British Columbia where they opened a book store.
She published her first book-length work in 1968, the story collection Dance of the Happy Shades, which attracted a lot of attention in Canada. Her most recent collection of short stories, Dear Life, was published in 2012.
In fact, Englund points to Dear Life as one of his favourites when it comes to Munro’s extensive bibliography, together with The Moons of Jupiter, although he suggests that any of Munro’s works would be a good starting point for a new reader.
“One of the amazing things about her is that she has no weak works… she has cultivated the short story to perfection. The Moons of Jupiter was the first I read by her… and in that book you have her very special narrative mode. She tells stories like nobody else,” he told The Local.
The head of the Swedish Academy explained further that while he hadn’t managed to reach the 82-year-old author directly, she could expect a pleasant message on her answering machine when she wakes.
“I basically said ‘Congratulations, you’ve won the Nobel Prize in Literature’,” he told reporters with a laugh.
So what exactly is it about Munro’s writing style that earned her the prize?
“She is a minimalist,” Englund told the Local.
“She has a sparse style, constrained, an economy of expression which is amazing. You’ll always have a hard time if you go through the texts of Alice Munro to find a redundant word or phrase, everything sits where it should be.
“If you’re a writer you can’t help being impressed.”
Munro becomes the 13th woman to claim the literature Nobel. The last woman to win was Romanian-born author Herta Müller in 2009.
She is also the second Canadian-born author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature after Saul Bellow, who won in 1976.
The announcement comes following wild speculation over who would claim this year’s prize, worth 8 million kronor ($1.24 million).
While there were no clear favourites amid early speculation about the 2013 literature prize, by Thursday morning Japanese author Haruki Murakami and Svetlana Alexievich of Belarus emerged as favourites, according to oddsmakers Ladbrokes and Unibet.
On Wednesday night, Munro was number four on a list of Nobel literature candidates ranked by Unibet according to the number of bets being placed.
Earlier in the week, Ladbrokes Murakami was the favourite with 3-to-1 odds, followed by US novelist Joyce Carol Oates at 6-to-1, Hungary’s Peter Nadas at 7-to-1 and Norwegian author and dramatist Jon Fosse at 9-to-1.
In addition to Alexievich, experts in Stockholm’s literary circles also suggested Algerian novelist Assia Djebar.
Thursday’s literature Nobel is the fourth award this week as part of the annual announcements.
The Nobel season kicked off on Monday with the announcement of the medicine prize, which went to two Americans and one German for their work in solving the mystery of how a cell organizes its transport system.
The peace prize winner is scheduled to be announced on Friday, and the economics prize on Monday, October 14th.
In line with tradition, the Swedish Academy gave no indication of its choice for the literature prize ahead of Thursday’s announcement.
It never reveals the names it is considering, and its deliberations are sealed for 50 years.
Last year, the honour went to Chinese novelist Mo Yan.
Follow our live blog of the Nobel week here.