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Read It! Bruce Mason

“Our Alice”

the Nobel, explosion and aftermath


espite all you have heard and read, Alice Munro didn’t actually win the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. She earned it. There’s a big difference – a pertinent distinction. People win lotteries all the time; all it takes is one ticket and luck to strike like lightning. In marked contrast, Munro, now 82, has spent a life in letters, producing 14 original collections of such quality that, in announcing the name of the 110th Laureate on October 10, the Swedish Academy selection committee acknowledged her “mastery of the contemporary short story.” She is the first Canadian and 13th female to earn a place in the pantheon of great writers, alongside the likes of Hemingway, Eliot, Churchill, Yeats, Steinbeck and Sartre. It is highly unlikely that history will record her surname alone. It will likely be prefaced by “Canadian author Alice...” but here at home, simply the ubiquitous “our Alice.” And that’s part of the joy and justice of the international recognition and acclaim that pushed bad news and madness off the front page for a few days. Highlight reactions include those of the recipient, who doesn’t like to talk about herself in public. The Nobel committee couldn’t reach Munro when she was nominated – long-listed then short-listed – and left a voice mail. She first heard the news from her daughter, in the middle of the night, while asleep in a Victoria hotel. Although somewhat aware she was in the running, a “terribly surprised” Munro never thought she would actually ‘win’ and is now reconsidering her retirement, since she suddenly has new insights and fresh ideas. Snippets from myriad CBC interviews were dusted off in precious archives and there were many spontaneous, heartfelt reactions from peers, including Margaret Atwood’s, “Okay, everyone’s calling me to get me to write about Alice! Alice, come out from behind the tool shed and pick up the phone,” and Lynn Coady’s “Alice-frickin’-ro!!!” All the fuss was about the most coveted literary prize of all, consisting of a gold medal, a diploma bearing a citation and a sum of money, which fluctuates with Nobel Foundation income, but likely in the area of approximately $1,200,000 US, the richest literary prize, by far. There’s also an invitation to lecture during “Nobel Week” in Stockholm, a seat at the head-table of the prize-giving ceremony and the banquet on December 10 when everyone will, at last, see and hear “our Alice” up close. All made possible through the last will and testament of Alfred Nobel in 1895, which established funds for annual prizes for the “greatest benefit on mankind” in the fields of physics, chemistry, peace, economics, physiology or medicine and literature. The privileged son of the inventor of plywood, Alfred himself held 355 patents and enhanced his fortune and fame as the man who gave the world dynamite and himself, ever escalating guilt. The Munro announcement touched off its own explosion both globally and at her quiet, rural residence in Clinton, Ontario. Closer to home, it touched off paparazzilike fireworks in Victoria, BC and sparked an avalanche of interview requests and international attention which will echo through time. And book sales, of course, which may ultimately be what it is all about anyway. That’s why the long list of books was concocted – to stretch the suspense and stimulate purchases. October 10 was a good day to still be in the tough business, especially in Victoria at Bolen Books, Ivy’s in Oak Bay and even in used bookstores like Russell Books, which sold out of older Alices, mostly on-line. But it was especially fantastic at the epicentre, Munro’s Books, co-founded with first husband Jim, who was celebrating his 84th birthday on that very day and just the month before joyfully marked 50 years at the helm of what is arguably the best book-


common ground

November 2 013

Canadian icon Alice Munro, renowned for her “mastery of the contemporary short story,” is the 110th recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Photo by Derek Shapton..

Common Ground November 2013  
Common Ground November 2013  

Robert Alstead, Alan Cassels, Carolyn Herriot, Bruce Mason, Ralph Maud, Mac McLaughlin, Vesanto Melina, Geoff Olson, Gwen Randall-Young, El...