As a small child, Munro had an uncanny sense that her stories were intended for the whole world. Upon being read the Little Mermaid, she imagined a happier ending for the fairy tale princess.
“I didn't worry about the fact that maybe the rest of the world wouldn't know the new story, because I felt it had been published once I thought about it,” the 82-year-old Canadian author said during her Nobel lecture.
Munro was unable to travel to Stockholm to collect her Nobel Prize in literature due to poor health, according to the Swedish Academy. Her Nobel literature lecture was replaced with a pre-recorded video conversation Sveriges Television (SVT) journalist Stefan Åsberg. During the Nobel programme on December 7th, Swedish actor Pernilla August also read an excerpt from Munro’s short story 'Carried Away'.
Munro is best known for her short stories. She published her first book-length work in 1968, the story collection Dance of the Happy Shades. Her most recent collection of short stories, Dear Life, was published in 2012.
She has always been driven by a sense of storytelling, she said. “I made stories up all the time. I don't know if I even thought about other people knowing them or reading them. It was about the story itself.”
Munro’s nomination was lauded when the Nobel prize winners were announced in October because she is only the 13th woman to claim the literature Nobel. Her stories often feature a female protagonist and are told from a female perspective.
“I never thought of myself as being anything but a woman, and there were many good stories about little girls and women…And this may have been because I lived in a part of Ontario where women did most of the reading, telling most of the stories,” Munro said.
She attributed her focus on female characters to growing up in Western Canada. She added that being a woman actually made it easier for her to becoming an author.
“Growing up as I did, if anybody read, it was the women, if anybody had the education it was often the woman; it would have been a school teacher or something like that, and far from being closed to women, the world of reading and writing was widely more open to women than it was to men, men being farmers or doing different kinds of work,” Munro explained.
As a child, she said she “did not tolerate unhappy endings, for my heroines anyway” but she eventually “changed my ideas completely and went in for the tragic”.
Munro's writing career began when she was a teenager growing up in a working class household Ontario, where her stories are often set. “I think any life can be interesting… I don't think I could have been so brave if I had been living in a town, competing with people on what can be called a generally higher cultural level. I didn't have to cope with that. I was the only person I knew who wrote stories,” she said.
Munro described the challenges of the writing and editing process: “You pick (the story) up one morning and you think ‘what nonsense’, and that is when you really have to get to work on it. And for me it always seemed the right thing to do, it was my fault if the story was bad, not the story's fault.”
The goal of her writing is to “move people”, the Canadian author continued. “I want my stories to be something about life that causes people to say, not, oh, isn't that the truth, but to feel some kind of reward from the writing, and that doesn't mean that it has to be a happy ending or anything, but just that everything the story tells moves the reader in such a way that you feel you are a different person when you finish.”
Munro said she did not expect to win the Nobel Prize in literature. “I just didn't think that way, because most writers probably underestimate their work, especially after it's done. You don't go around and tell your friends that I will probably win the Nobel Prize. That is not a common way of greeting one!”
Alice Munro’s daughter Jenny Munro will accept the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature on her mother’s behalf on Tuesday, December 10th at the Stockholm Concert Hall.