Hit enter after type your search item
Home / Arts / A Canadian jewel, writer Alice Munro passes away at 92

A Canadian jewel, writer Alice Munro passes away at 92


With profound sadness, we bid farewell to Alice Munro, the enchantress of Canadian literature, whose tales bestowed a mythic aura upon the lives of ordinary folk from the quaint, rural hamlets reminiscent of Ontario’s countryside, where she dwelled for the better part of her 92 years.

Penguin Random House Canada, the guardian of her literary legacy, confirmed the passing of Munro on Monday evening at her abode in Port Hope, Ontario. Although the precise cause of her departure remains undisclosed, it is known that her health had been delicate since enduring heart surgery in 2001.

Penguin Random House – “A National Treasure”

Kristin Cochrane, the esteemed chief executive of Penguin Random House Canada, paid homage to Munro in a poignant statement released on the publisher’s website. Alice Munro is a national treasure — a writer of unparalleled depth, empathy, and humanity whose narratives are embraced, admired, and treasured by readers across Canada and beyond,” Cochrane expressed.

The tribute continued: “Alice’s literary prowess inspired a multitude of writers, leaving an indelible imprint on our literary terrain. We, the family of Penguin Random House Canada, mourn this profound loss, uniting with our counterparts at Penguin Random House in the U.S., the U.K., and worldwide in deep appreciation for the enduring legacy Alice Munro has bestowed upon us.”

The Nobel Prize

Alice Munro, hailed by many as the supreme virtuoso of short fiction in her era, ascended to literary Olympus when she was bestowed with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013, a mere few months after releasing a collection of stories she proclaimed to be her swan song. Her accolades were a constellation of literary jewels — the Man Booker International Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award in the United States, and every prestigious literary honor her homeland, Canada, could offer, including the revered Governor General’s Award.

“Alice Munro is our Chekhov, and is going to outlast most of her contemporaries,” proclaimed author Cynthia Ozick, drawing a parallel between the Canadian luminary and Russia’s 19th-century master of the short story. Critics often intertwined their names, recognizing their shared ability to delicately peel back layers to expose the raw essence of their characters.

Munro’s Canvas

Munro’s canvas was the world of country folk who possessed the wisdom of gutting a turkey, breeding foxes, and peddling medicine door to door, yet grappled with the capricious nature of love, the shadows of family violence, and the heartaches of thwarted ambitions. Her narratives unfurled in the fictional towns of Jubilee or Hanratty, characterized by a direct simplicity matched only by the painstaking craftsmanship behind them. She openly confessed to the dozens of drafts it took to sculpt a story into its final form.

“She’s become a virtuoso,” acclaimed author John Updike once remarked in a 2001 interview with the Montreal Gazette. She manages to get into people’s skin without seeming to dive in, without being ostentatious.”

She Found Beauty In The Mundane

Several of Munro’s collections were intricate tapestries of interconnected stories, where characters traversed years and decades before the last page. In “Lives of Girls and Women” (1971), she painted portraits of her favourite kind of women — “dull, simple, amazing and unfathomable — deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum.”

Alice Munro, the literary sorceress, found beauty in lives often dismissed as mundane. “The complexity of things, the things within things, just seems to be endless,” she once mused. “I mean, nothing is easy, nothing is simple.” Munro’s best works, akin to classic tragedies, unfold in prose with unparalleled depth.

The Old Fashioned Way

“I want to tell a story in the old-fashioned way — what happens to somebody,” Munro declared in a Vintage Books interview. “But I want the reader to feel something is astonishing. Not the ‘what happens’ but the way everything happens.”

In Munro’s tales, happy endings are scarce, but there is an inherent goodness, laid bare in nearly all her characters. Even in loss, they carry their disappointments with quiet dignity, their struggles echoing the universal human experience.

“The bleakness of its vision is enriched by the author’s exquisite eye and ear for detail,” acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates wrote in the New York Times. “Life is heartbreak, but it is also uncharted moments of kindness and reconciliation.

Rural Ontario

Munro’s journey to literary eminence began in the rural embrace of Ontario, where she was raised amidst woods and farmland. Despite feeling constrained by her upbringing in Wingham, she eventually found solace in small-town life. “I am at home with the brick houses, the falling-down barns… I speak the language,” she asserted in the introduction to “Selected Stories.”

Literary Spotlight

Through sheer tenacity, Munro vaulted into the literary spotlight, earning comparisons to Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, and Timothy Findley. Her relentless pursuit of perfection led her to write every day, setting the highest standards for herself.

Daniel Menaker, her editor at the New Yorker, described her as “a modern and experimental writer in the clothing of a classical writer,” weaving narratives that delve deep into the human psyche, often leaving readers grappling with existential questions.

Alice Laidlaw

Born Alice Laidlaw on a fox and mink farm, Munro’s upbringing was marked by familial tensions and illness. Her mother’s battle with Parkinson’s disease strained their relationship, influencing Munro’s exploration of mother-daughter dynamics in her stories.

Her departure from home, marked by guilt and defiance, paved the way for her literary liberation. Munro’s personal stories, including her own struggles, became her hallmark, offering poignant reflections on life’s complexities.

The University of Western Ontario

Leaving her childhood behind, Munro ventured to the University of Western Ontario, where she met her future husband, James Munro. Their life together in Vancouver, raising 3 daughters, formed the backdrop to Munro’s remarkable literary journey. A fourth child was born without kidneys and died hours later.

Munro’s Books

During her children’s early years, Alice Munro squeezed fiction writing between household chores and her daughters’ naps. Time constraints nudged her towards short stories. “I wrote in bits and pieces,” she recalled in a 2001 interview with Atlantic Monthly. “Perhaps I got used to thinking of my material in terms of things that worked that way.”

In 1963, the Munros relocated to Victoria, British Columbia, and opened a bookstore — Munro’s Books — which later became a literary hub.

Dance of the Happy Shades

Family responsibilities slowed Munro’s writing pace. It took her nearly 20 years to accumulate enough stories for her debut collection, “Dance of the Happy Shades,” published in 1968 when she was 37. The book clinched the Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award in 1969. She won the prize again in 1978, 1979, and 1987.

Divorce After 22 Years

“I feel that I am two rather different people, two very different women,” she reflected in an interview for “Eleven Canadian Novelists” (1973). “In many ways I want a quite traditional role and then of course the writer stands right outside this, so there’s the conflict right there.”

University of Western Ontario Part 2

The societal changes of the 1960s provided Munro with fresh material. Discontent with her marriage, she divorced her husband in 1973 after 22 years. She then began teaching at the University of Western Ontario and rekindled a relationship with Gerald Fremlin, a geographer. They married and settled in Clinton, Ontario, where they both grew up.

Clinton Ontario

Place became a living presence in Munro’s tales. “I am intoxicated by this landscape,” she wrote, “by the almost flat fields, the swamps, the hardwood bush, by the continental climate with its extravagant winters.”

In numerous short stories set in Ontario, she intertwined the “intractably rural” region with the human drama it hosted — “gothic passions, buried sorrows and forlorn mysteries,” as described by a New York Times magazine reviewer in 2004.

Friend of My Youth

At 60, Munro began crafting stories about her contemporaries reflecting on the past. In “Friend of My Youth,” published in 1990, men and women from Munro’s generation grapple with the aftermath of the sexual revolution, the peace movement, and feminism. Critics lauded her “mature vision.”

By 1998, Munro was at the pinnacle of her career, winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for “The Love of a Good Woman.” Three years later, “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” secured her reputation. She followed it in 2004 with “Runaway,” a collection tracing Juliet’s tumultuous journey through three decades of life.

Dear Life

Munro’s final story collection, “Dear Life,” was published in 2012. The following year, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

“I write the story I want to read,” she said. “I do not feel responsible to my readers or my material. I know how hard it is to get anything to work right. Every story is a triumph.”

Munro is survived by her daughters Sheila and Jenny. Her husband, Fremlin, passed away in 2013.

lead photo MacDowell, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Other articles from totimes.ca – otttimes.ca – mtltimes.ca

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • Reddit
This div height required for enabling the sticky sidebar