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Alice Munro was born in Wingham, a town in southwest Ontario, Canada, in 1931, to a schoolteacher mother and a father who raised foxes, minks, and later turkeys. Her mother, socially ambitious and relatively independent, became ill with Parkinson’s during Munro’s childhood, leading to a loss of income for the family and greater responsibilities for Munro. She was awarded a scholarship to the University of Western Ontario, where she published her first short story, “The Dimensions of A Shadow” at age 19. After leaving college at age 21 to marry James Munro, she moved to Vancouver in western Canada. Following the birth of their first three daughters, the couple opened a bookstore together in the city of Victoria, British Columbia, which was still in business 60 years later. A fourth daughter was born in 1966. In this period, Munro began publishing books, beginning with the 1968 collection The Dance of the Happy Shades, which won Canada’s highest literary honor, the Governor General’s Award, followed quickly by 1971’s Lives of Girls and Women. The Munros divorced in 1972. Munro returned to Ontario in 1973 to be writer-in-residence at her alma mater, marrying Gerald Fremlin in 1976. She and Fremlin moved to Clinton, Ontario, a town very like her first home of Wingham.
Munro’s work revolves around southwestern Ontario, and she is said to be part of the Southern Ontario Gothic style, along with Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Jane Urquhart, Marian Engel, James Reaney, and Barbara Gowdy. Munro’s work is often compared to Southern Gothic writer William Faulkner, who likewise captured an air of unspoken menace underlying everyday rural life. Her work examines the moral and sexual tensions of ordinary life, often from the perspective of girls and women. She has also been compared to Anton Chekov for her mastery of the short story form.
Throughout her long career, Munro has won numerous awards, including the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime body of work. In 2013, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first Canadian to win the world’s most prestigious literary award. In the presentation of her award, permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Peter Englund called her the “master of the contemporary short story,” citing her precision of language and her ability to deftly move among time periods in a single short piece, creating the full worlds of a novel over the course of a few pages.