Munro, Alice 1931–
Munro, Alice 1931–
PERSONAL: Born July 10, 1931, in Wingham, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Robert Eric (a farmer) and Ann Clarke (Chamney) Laidlaw; married James Armstrong Munro (a bookseller), December 29, 1951 (divorced, 1976); married Gerald Fremlin (a geographer), 1976; children: (first marriage) Sheila, Jenny, Andrea. Education: University of Western Ontario, B.A., 1952. Politics: New Democratic Party. Religion: Unitarian Universalist.
ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 1133, Clinton, Ontario N0M 1L0, Canada. Agent—c/o Writer's Union of Canada, 24 Ryerson St., Toronto, Ontario M5T 2P4.
CAREER: Writer. Artist-in-residence, University of Western Ontario, 1974–75, and University of British Columbia, 1980.
MEMBER: Writers Union of Canada.
AWARDS, HONORS: Governor General's Literary Award, 1969, for Dance of the Happy Shades, 1978, for Who Do You Think You Are: Stories, 1979, for The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose, and 1987, for The Progress of Love; Canadian Bookseller's Award, 1972, for Lives of Girls and Women; Great Lakes Colleges Association award, 1974; Province of Ontario Award, 1974; D. Litt., University of Western Ontario, 1976; Canada-Australia Literary Prize, 1977, and 1994; Marian Engel Award, 1986; Lannan Literary Award, W.H. Smith Award, and Canadian Booksellers' Award, all 1995; finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Review Award, 1995; National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, 1998, for The Love of a Good Woman, and nominee in 2001 in fiction category, for Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories; Rea Award for lifetime achievement, 2001, for significant contributions to the short story genre; lifetime achievement award, Vancouver Public Library, 2005.
Dance of the Happy Shades and Other Stories, Ryerson (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1968, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1973.
Lives of Girls and Women, McGraw-Hill Ryerson (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1971, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1972.
Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You: Thirteen Stories, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1974.
Who Do You Think You Are?: Stories, Macmillan (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1978, published as The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose, Knopf (New York, NY), 1979.
The Moons of Jupiter: Stories, Macmillan (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1982, Knopf (New York, NY), 1983.
The Progress of Love, Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.
Friend of My Youth: Stories, Knopf (New York, NY), 1990.
Open Secrets: Stories, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
Selected Stories, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
The Love of a Good Woman: Stories, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
Queenie: A Story, Profile Books/London Review of Books (London, England), 1999.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
Contributor to books, including Canadian Short Stories, second series, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1968; Sixteen by Twelve: Short Stories by Canadian Writers, edited by John Metcalf, Ryerson (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1970; The Narrative Voice: Stories and Reflections by Canadian Authors, edited by David Helwig and Joan Harcourt, Oberon (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1974; Here and Now, Oberon (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1977; Personal Fictions, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1977; Night Light: Stories of Aging, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1986; and Best American Short Stories, 1989. Also contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic, Canadian Forum, Chatelaine, Grand Street, Queen's Quarterly, and New Yorker.
"A Trip to the Coast," in To See Ourselves, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), 1973.
"Thanks for the Ride," in To See Ourselves, CBC, 1973.
How I Met My Husband (broadcast in The Plays the Thing, CBC, 1974), Macmillan (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1976.
"1847: The Irish," in The Newcomers: Inhabiting a New Land, CBC, 1978.
ADAPTATIONS: "Baptising," in Lives of Girls and Women, was adapted and filmed for the CBC Performance series, 1975. Boys and Girls and An Ounce of Cure were adapted for film in 1983 by Atlantis Films in association with the CBC, produced by Janice Platt, Seaton McLean, and Michael Macmillan, directed by Don McBrearty, and distributed by Beacon Films; Connection was filmed by the same group in 1986. Munro read her short story "The Progress of Love," produced as a sound recording by American Audio Prose Library (Columbia, MO), 1987. Friend of My Youth was produced as a sound recording by Chivers, 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Alice Munro is considered a master of the short story form. Her work has often drawn comparisons to that of Anton Chekov for its richness of detail. Munro, a Canadian author, is usually concerned with characters living in the small towns of southwestern Ontario, and her stories present "ordinary experiences so that they appear extraordinary, invested with a kind of magic," according to Catherine Sheldrick Ross in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Considered one of Canada's major writers, Munro typically refuses to imbue events in her work with moral overtones: her stories offer no resolution, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions regarding the actions of her unpredictable protagonists. "Few people writing today," critic Beverley Slopen claimed in Publishers Weekly, "can bring a character, a mood or a scene to life with such economy. And [Munro] has an exhilarating ability to make the readers see the familiar with fresh insight and compassion."
In a review of Dance of the Happy Shades in the New York Times Book Review, contributor Martin Levin wrote that "the short story is alive and well in Canada…. Alice Munro creates a solid habitat for her fiction—southwestern Ontario, a generation or more in the past—and is in sympathetic vibration with the farmers and townspeople who live there." Peter Prince, writing in the New Statesman, called the stories in Dance of the Happy Shades "beautifully controlled and precise. And always this precision appears unstrained. The proportions so exactly fit the writer's thematic aims that in almost every case it seems that really no other words could have been used, certainly no more or less."
Reviewing Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You in Saturday Night, Kildare Dobbs wrote: "Readers who enjoyed the earlier books because they confirmed the reality of the Canadian small-town experience for a certain generation, or because they seemed to reinforce some of the ideology of the women's movement, will find more of the same…. All the stories are told with the skill which the author has perfected over the years, narrated with meticulous precision in a voice that is unmistakably Ontarian in its lack of emphasis, its sly humour and willingness to live with a mystery." Joyce Carol Oates argued that readers will be "most impressed by the feeling behind [Munro's] stories—the evocation of emotions, ranging from bitter hatred to love, from bewilderment and resentment to awe." "In all her work," Oates added in the Ontario Review, "there is an effortless, almost conversational tone, and we know we are in the presence of an art that works to conceal itself, in order to celebrate its subject."
Munro "has the ability to isolate the one detail that will evoke the rest of the landscape," wrote Urjo Kareda in Saturday Night, calling Who Do You Think You Are?—published in the United States as The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose—a "remarkable, immensely pleasurable collection." A volume of related short stories, Who Do You Think You Are? introduces readers to Rose—a wealthy, middle-aged divorcee who grew up in poverty in Hanratty, Ontario—as she fits the pieces of her life together. Julia O'Faolain, writing in the New York Times Book Review, added that "Munro captures a kaleidoscope of lights and depths. Through the lens of Rose's eye, she manages to reproduce the vibrant prance of life while scrutinizing the working of her own narrative art. This is an exhilarating collection."
"In The Progress of Love, the focus has changed," contended Anne Tyler in the New Republic. "The characters in these 11 stories are concerned not so much with the journey as with the journey's hidden meaning—how to view the journey, how to make sense of it…. In the most successful of the stories, the end result is a satisfying click as everything settles precisely into place." Munro "is concerned not only with the different configurations of love that occur in the wake of divorces, separations and deaths, but also with the 'progress of love,' the ways in which it endures or changes through time," explained Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times. "The results are pictures of life, or relationships, of love, glimpsed from a succession of mirrors and frames—pictures that possess both the pain and immediacy of life and the clear, hard radiance of art." And Oates declared in the New York Times Book Review that "Munro writes stories that have the density—moral, emotional, sometimes historical—of other writer's novels"—a claim echoed by several other critics. "The Progress of Love is a volume of unflinching audacious honesty," Oates continued, "uncompromisingly downright in its dissection of the ways in which we deceive ourselves in the name of love; the bleakness of its vision is enriched by the author's exquisite eye and ear for detail. Life is heartbreak, but it is also uncharted moments of kindness and reconciliation."
The success of Friend of My Youth: Stories, which was published in 1990, won Munro significant critical acclaim. In Time, Stefan Kanfer compared her to the great Russian short story writer and dramatist, Anton Chekhov, while the New York Times Book Review included the collection among their "Best Books of 1990." In Friend of My Youth, Munro continues her exploration of the movements of relationships and characters with respect to time. "Movement is central to all Munro's stories," wrote Kate Walbert in the Nation. "That endings give way to beginnings is the one constant in the lives of these characters." Walbert also asserted that for Munro, "self-identity … is a commodity to wage battles for," and for her female protagonists, "self-scrutinization … is as habitual as breathing." According to Walbert, the issue for these women is not so much the events of their past—"first marriages, lonely childhoods, severed friendships"—but "who they were in relation to that event." As they trace "their footsteps with … How did-I-get-here? wonder," the attempt "to extract the 'I' from a time when who they were was defined for them seems a Sisyphean task," since "so many of [their] actions were taken in observance of patriarchal rules."
The 1994 publication of Open Secrets prompted Ted Solataroff to call Munro "the mother figure of Canadian fiction" in his review in the Nation, placing her writing in the tradition of "the great stylist of 1920's realism, a Katherine Anne Porter brought up to date." Josephine Humphreys, writing in the New York Times Book Review, also remarked on Munro's stylistic achievements. She noted that every story in Open Secrets contains "a startling leap"—in time, place, or point of view—which "explod[es]—the fictional context," thereby allowing Munro to reach "toward difficult truths." For, as Humphreys claimed, "Ms. Munro's fiction is out to seize—to apprehend—the mystery of existence within time, 'the unforeseen intervention,' the unique quality of a person's fate."
Like her previous collections, Open Secrets is largely concerned with the politics of sex. Solataroff found that the stories in Open Secrets "develop Munro's master theme from various points in time and from dramatically unexpected angles." Praising "A Wilderness Station"—an epistolary story concerning two brothers, an unsolved murder, and a woman's oppression and descent into madness amid a rough-hewn existence on the Canadian frontier—as "extraordinary writing," he also lauded Munro for her ability to capture what he termed "the male shadow on women's lives." "Carried Away" is a "three-part variation on the theme of being carried away, in its double meaning of love and death"; and "The Albanian Virgin," which first appeared in the New Yorker, the critic proclaimed a "masterpiece … written with the guts of a burglar."
Munro impressed critics again with her collection The Love of a Good Woman, published in 1998. In each story in this collection of tales set in small-town Ontario, murders, affairs, and other dark secrets come to the surface, revealed in the multi-leveled detail for which Munro has become famous. In a sense, one could describe her as "a gossip with a dark twist," mused Tamsin Todd in New Statesman. Yet the appeal of her work goes far beyond the lure of hidden secrets or the rich detail of her descriptions. These stories show her talent for pinpointing pivotal instants in her characters' lives, noted Todd. The reviewer added, "Like the teller of medieval morality tales, Munro leads readers along a winding path to those moments when the moral decisions that determine the shape of a life are made."
Hateship, Friendship, Loveship, Courtship, Marriage: Stories shows the author at the height of her powers, with her writing "increasingly intricate and wide-ranging," reported Bruce Allen for Insight on the News. Noting that Munro is often called "Canada's Chekhov," Allen went on to say, "That comparison is a reviewer's cliche yet it's unavoidably apt. She has the Russian master's keen eye for detail and his empathy with people of all sorts." The title story of the collection concerns Johanna Parry, a tidy Scottish spinster who has made a life for herself in Canada. When two teen-aged girls play a malicious prank on her, she packs up her belongings to move to Saskatchewan, thinking she has received a proposal of marriage. The father of one of the girls lives there, but he knows nothing of the love letters he has supposedly been sending to Johanna. Instead of being crushed by the deception, the woman rises to the occasion and a wedding takes place after all. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Marriage finds Munro "on top form," advised a reviewer for Economist, who added that "she is one of the most accomplished and downright exhilarating writers working today. Her human understanding is acute. From rather unpromising-sounding subject matter she fashions short stories of extraordinary delicacy and resonance."
A compulsive writer for much of her adult life, Munro sees within her work the essence of her ability to transcend aging. "I'm a little panicked at the idea of stopping," she told Jeanne McCulloch and Mona Simpson in Paris Review, "as if, if I stopped I could be stopped for good…. There are parts of a story where the story fails…. The story fails but your faith in the importance of doing the story doesn't fail. That it might is the danger."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Besner, Neil K., Introducing Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women: A Reader's Guide, ECW Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.
Bloom, Harold, editor, Alice Munro, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 1994.
Carrington, Ildikao de Papp, Controlling the Uncontrollable: The Fiction of Alice Munro, Northern Illinois University Press (DeKalb, IL), 1989.
Carscallen, James, The Other Country: Patterns in the Writing of Alice Munro, ECW Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1993.
Dahlie, Hallvard, Alice Munro and Her Works, ECW Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1984.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 53: Canadian Writers since 1960, First Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.
Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Gibson, Graeme, Eleven Canadian Novelists: Interviews by Graeme Gibson, House of Anasi (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1973.
Hancock, Geoff, Canadian Writers at Work: Interviews with Geoff Hancock, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.
Heble, Ajay, The Tumble of Reason: Alice Munro's Discourse of Absence, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.
MacKendrick, Louis K., editor, Probable Fictions: Alice Munro's Narrative Acts, ECW Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1983.
MacKendrick, Louis K., editor, Some Other Reality: Alice Munro's Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You, ECW Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1993.
Miller, Judith, editor, The Art of Alice Munro: Saying the Unsayable, University of Waterloo Press (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada), 1984.
New, W. H., Dreams of Speech and Violence: The Art of the Short Story in Canada and New Zealand, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.
Rasporich, Beverly Jean, Dance of the Sexes: Art and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro, University of Alberta Press (Edmundton, Alberta, Canada), 1990.
Redekop, Magdalene, Mothers and Other Clowns: The Stories of Alice Munro, Routledge (New York, NY), 1992.
Ross, Catherine Sheldick, Alice Munro: A Double Life, ECW Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.
Smythe, Karen E., Figuring Grief: Gallant, Munro, and the Poetics of Elegy, McGill-Queen's University Press (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1992.
Steele, Apollonia, and Jean F. Tener, editors, The Alice Munro Papers, First Accession: An Inventory of the Archive at the University of Calgary Libraries, University of Calgary Press (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 1986.
Steele, Apollonia, and Jean F. Tener, editors, The Alice Munro Papers, Second Accession, University of Calgary Press (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 1987.
Twigg, Alan, For Openers: Conversations with 24 Canadian Writers, Harbour Publishing (Madiera Park, British Columbia, Canada), 1981.
York, L., Other Side of Dailiness: Photography in the Writing of Alice Munro and Timothy Findley, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.
Belles Lettres, summer, 1990.
Book, July, 2001, review of Friend of My Youth, p. 84.
Booklist, August, 1996, p. 1856; August, 2001, Whitney Scott, review of Friend of My Youth (sound recording), p. 2143; November 15, 2001, Brad Hooper, review of Lives of Girls and Women, p. 555.
Brick, number 40, 1991, Eleanor Wachtel, "An Interview with Alice Munro," pp. 48-53.
Canadian Fiction Magazine, number 43, 1982, pp. 74-114.
Canadian Forum, February, 1969.
Canadian Literature, number 130, 1991, Gerald Lynch, "The One and the Many: English-Canadian Short Story Cycles," pp. 91-104; spring, 1999, review of Who Do You Think You Are?, p. 73.
Chatelaine, August, 1975, pp. 42-43; July, 1990, p. 10.
Economist, November 24, 2001, review of Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories.
Entertainment Weekly, November 5, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 74; December 10, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 102.
Essays on Critical Writing, spring, 1996, p. 71.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 30, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. D28.
Hudson Review, spring, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 167.
Insight on the News, February 25, 2002, Bruce Allen, review of Hateship, Friendship, Loveship, Courtship, Marriage: Stories, p. 26.
Journal of Canadian Studies, spring, 1991, pp. 5-21; summer, 1991, pp. 156-169; summer, 1994, pp. 184-194.
Listener, June 13, 1974; January 29, 1987, pp. 22-23.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 1, 1990, p. 4.
Maclean's, September 22, 1986; May 7, 1990, p. 66; October 17, 1994, pp. 46-49.
Meanjin, Volume 54, number 2, 1995, pp. 222-240.
Ms., November-December, 1996, p. 81.
Nation, May 14, 1990, pp. 678-680; November 28, 1994, pp. 665-668.
New Republic, September 15, 1986; pp. 54-55; May 14, 1990, pp. 50-53; November 31, 1994, pp. 51-53.
New Statesman, May 3, 1974; February 12, 1999, Tamsin Todd, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 54.
Newsweek, April 2, 1990, pp. 56-57; September 26, 1994, p. 63; October 21, 1996, p. 88.
New Yorker, December 17, 1990, p. 123.
New York Review of Books, May 17, 1990, pp. 38-39; December 22, 1994, pp. 59-60.
New York Times, February 16, 1983; September 3, 1986, p. C22; November 10, 1986; April 17, 1990.
New York Times Book Review, September 23, 1973; September 16, 1979, p. 12; September 14, 1986, pp. 7, 9; March 18, 1990, pp. 1, 31; December 2, 1990, p. 3; September 11, 1994, pp. 1, 36-37; December 10, 1995, p. 44; October 27, 1996, p. 11; December 8, 1996, p. 10; December 14, 1997, p. 36; October 31, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 40; December 5, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 105; November 25, 2001, William H. Pritchard, review of Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories, p. 9.
Ontario Review, fall, 1974; fall-winter, 1979–80, pp. 87-90.
Paris Review, summer, 1994, pp. 227-264.
Publishers Weekly, August 22, 1986; August 1, 1994, p. 72.
Quill & Quire, June, 1990, p. 29; February, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 42.
Resource Links, October, 2001, Ingrid Johnston, review of The Love of a Good Woman: Stories, p. 58.
Saturday Night, July, 1974, p. 28; January-February, 1979, pp. 62-63.
Southern Review, summer, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 608.
Spectator, October 20, 1990, pp. 37-38; March 13, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 36; October 29, 1994, pp. 35-36.
Studies in Canadian Literature, number 5, 1980, Helen Hoy, "'Dull, Simple, Amazing and Unfathomable': Paradox and Double Vision in Alie Munro's Fiction," pp. 100-115.
Time, January 15, 1973; July 2, 1990, pp. 66-67; October 3, 1994, p. 80.
Times Literary Supplement, November 14, 1994, p. 24; November 8, 1996, p. 26; November 29, 1996, p. 13.
Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 58.
Washington Post Book World, March 18, 1990, pp. 1-2; September 18, 1994, p. 2.
Women's Review of Books, January, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 15.
World Literature Today, summer, 1997, p. 589; summer, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 526.
Yale Review, April, 1999, review of The Love of a Good Woman, p. 157.
Compulsive Reader, http://www.compulsivereader.com/ (April 29, 2002), Bob Williams, review of Hate-ship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories.
New Republic Online, http://www.powells.com/ (April 29, 2002), Ruth Franklin, review of Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories.
Reading Group Center Web site, www.randomhouse.com/vintage.read/ (April 29, 2002), "A Conversation with Alice Munro."
Alice Munro Interview with Kay Bonetti (sound recording), American Audio Prose Library (Columbia, MO), 1987.