Books News & Features
7:39 am
Thu October 10, 2013

Canadian Alice Munro Wins Nobel's Literature Prize

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Swedish Academy, which gives Nobel Prizes out this time of year, calls for master of the contemporary short story. Canadian writer Alice Munro is the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. The announcement was made earlier this morning in Stockholm. And joining us to talk about the selection is NPR's Lynn Neary. Lynn, good morning

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

Good morning. Good to be here.

GREENE: So we have an editor at MORNING EDITION from Canada, and he literally jumped out of his seat when he heard this news.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: So, obviously, Alice Munro has fans in Canada, but her fan bases goes well beyond that country.

NEARY: Yeah. And I have to say, I'm really excited about this one this year because I love Alice Munro. And, you know, in making the announcement this morning, Peter Englund, who is the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which, as you said, gives out the Nobel...

GREENE: Mm-hmm.

NEARY: ...he said he thought this would be a popular choice. And I think that's the case, certainly, for North Americans and, yes, for Canadians...

GREENE: Right.

NEARY: ...because she is quintessentially Canadian. She lives in the small town of Clinton, Ontario, and that's very near where she was born. She also lived in Vancouver when she was a young wife and mother. She writers about Canada and Canadians. But, you know, her stories really explore human emotions in a way that anyone can understand. She is, as they said, the master of the short story. In a really short space of time, she can provide a fully realized story that provides really remarkable insight into human beings, their shortcomings, their complexities, their loves, their lives. She's really a remarkable writer.

GREENE: Well, people who love those stories are probably going to be very excited about this, but maybe also disappointed because she recently announced that she's no longer going to be writing.

NEARY: Yes. Yes, she did. She's 82 years old, and her first short story collection was published in 1968. She was 37 years old at that time. And, you know, she surprised the literary world this past summer. She said that she thought she no longer had the energy to write. Munro talked about her writing, and she said that when she started writing short stories, she thought she was practicing for novel and waiting for the time, because she had - I think she had four children. She was very busy, didn't have time to write a novel. So she was practicing with her short stories. And then she says, I realized that I couldn't do anything, which, of course, it shows you how self-effacing she is because she is a brilliant short story writer.

And I think she has helped to popularized the genre again. Many of her collections, "The Moons of Jupiter," "Too Much Happiness," her most recent collection, "Dear Life," these will go on to attract fans all over the world.

GREENE: Amazing for someone who's just practicing ends up winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: You know, the committee often selects writers who have a - who seemed to have a political bent in their works, not the case here with Alice Munro.

NEARY: No. She is not political. She really does focus on relationships, love affairs, domestic life, marriage. She's the kind of writer that you can start off an Alice Munro story and think you're going to spend the afternoon with a group of people who may be even aren't that interesting. You don't know it's going to be such an interesting afternoon. And yet, somehow, she draws into their lives in a way that's really compelling and revealing. The writer Cynthia Ozick once said, she is our Chekhov. She's going to outlast almost of her contemporaries.

GREENE: Chekhov, the Russian writer...

NEARY: Yes.

GREENE: ...who outlasted a lot of contemporaries.

NEARY: Yes. And I think, in this era of celebrity writers with huge Twitter followings, I think Munro is a throwback in the best possible sense of the word.

GREENE: And, Lynn, her selection surprised you?

NEARY: Well, guess what, I called it this year, at least I hoped for it anyway.

GREENE: There you go. You're my handicapper for next year.

NEARY: OK.

GREENE: NPR's Lynn Neary, thanks a lot.

NEARY: Good to be here.

GREENE: She was talking to us about Canadian writer Alice Munro, who was announced this morning as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.