Just last month I was touring the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, so I know where Alice Munro will be in December when she steps across the cobblestones of Stockholm's Gamla Stan to accept her Nobel Prize. To explain the importance of this achievement, Margaret Atwood writes in The Guardian: Alice Munro's road to Nobel literature prize was not easy. Excerpt:
Alice Munro has been awarded the Nobel prize in literature, thus becoming its 13th female recipient. It's a thrilling honour for a major writer: Munro has long been recognised in North America and the UK, but the Nobel will draw international attention, not only to women's writing and Canadian writing, but to the short story, Munro's chosen métier and one often overlooked.
Whenever the Nobel is conferred, a deluge of media descends – like the pack of cards cascading on to that other Alice, she of Wonderland – not only on the winner, illuminated in the sudden glare of international publicity like a burglar trapped in headlights, but on every other writer who has known the chosen one. A quote, a reminiscence, an evaluation! Account for it! Why her? they clamour.
Munro herself is unlikely to say much along these lines: Canadians are discouraged from bragging – see the Munro story, Who Do You Think You Are? – so will probably spend much of her time hiding in the figurative tool shed.
We're all slightly furtive, we writers; especially we Canadian writers, and even more especially we Canadian female writers of an earlier generation. "Art is what you can get away with," said Canadian Marshall MacLuhan, and I invite the reader to count how many of the murderers in Munro's stories are ever caught. (Answer: none.) Munro understands the undercover heist that is fiction writing, as well as its pleasures and fears: how delicious to have done it, but what if you get found out?Sometime in the 1970s I met Alice Munro at some literary event in Vancouver, when I was a young college teacher using her short stories in my CanLit course. She was a cheerful, friendly person, and I feel proud to have been in her presence long ago.