Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro dies at 92

Canadian writer widely admired for her mastery of the short story

Alice Munro, the revered Canadian author who started writing short stories because she did not think she had the time or the talent to master novels, then stubbornly dedicated her long career to churning out psychologically dense stories that dazzled the literary world and earned her the Nobel Prize in literature, died on Monday at her home in Ontario. She was 92.

Her family announced the death, at a care home, to the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.

Munro was one of the rare breed of writer, like Katherine Anne Porter and Raymond Carver, who made their reputations in the notoriously difficult literary arena of the short story, and did so with great success. Her tales – many of them focused on women at different stages of their lives coping with complex desires – were so eagerly received and gratefully read that she attracted a whole new generation of readers.

Munro’s stories were widely considered to be without equal, a mixture of ordinary people and extraordinary themes. She portrayed small-town folks, often in rural southwestern Ontario, facing situations that made the fantastic seem an everyday occurrence. Some of her characters were fleshed out so completely through generations and across continents that readers reached a level of intimacy with them that usually comes only with a full-length novel.


She achieved such compactness through exquisite craftsmanship and a degree of precision that did not waste words. Other writers declared some of her stories to be nearly perfect, a heavy burden for a writer of modest personal character who had struggled to overcome a lack of self-confidence at the beginning of her career when she left the protective embrace of her quiet hometown and ventured into the competitive literary scene.

Her insecurity, however powerfully she felt it, was never noticed by fellow writers who celebrated her craftsmanship and freely lent her their highest praise.

Irish novelist Edna O’Brien ranked Munro with William Faulkner and James Joyce as writers who had influenced her work. Joyce Carol Oates said her stories “have the density – moral, emotional, sometimes historical – of other writers’ novels”. And novelist Richard Ford once made it clear that questioning Munro’s mastery over the short story would be akin to doubting the hardness of a diamond or the bouquet of a ripened peach.

“With Alice it’s like a shorthand,” Ford said. “You’ll just mention her, and everybody just kind of generally nods that she’s just sort of as good as it gets.”

In awarding her the Nobel in 2013, when she was 82, the Swedish Academy cited her 14 collections of stories and referred to her as “a master of the contemporary short story,” praising her ability to “accommodate the entire epic complexity of the novel in just a few short pages.”

As famous for the refined exuberance of her prose as for the modesty of her personal life, she declined to travel to Sweden to accept her Nobel, saying she was too frail. In place of the formal lecture that winners traditionally give, she taped a long interview in Victoria, British Columbia, where she’d been visiting when her award was announced. When asked if the process of writing her stories had consumed her entirely, she responded that it did, then added, “But, you know, I always got lunch for my children.”

During the presentation of the taped interview at the Swedish Academy, Swedish actress Pernilla August read an excerpt from Munro’s story Carried Away, a multidecade tale of dashed expectations that typified the complicated, often disappointing, world of her stories:

“She had a picture taken. She knew how she wanted it to be,” it read. “She would have liked to wear a simple white blouse, a peasant girl’s smock with the string open at the neck. She did not own a blouse of that description and in fact had only seen them in pictures. And she would have liked to let her hair down. Or if it had to be up, she would have liked it piled very loosely and bound with strings of pearls.

“Instead she wore her blue silk shirtwaist and bound her hair as usual. She thought the picture made her look rather pale, hollow-eyed. Her expression was sterner and more foreboding than she had intended. She sent it anyway.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.