Short story author Alice Munro says growing up in rural Ontario grew her confidence during early days of writing, nurturing a gift that earned her worldwide acclaim and now a Nobel Prize.
“I don’t think I would have been nearly so brave as a writer if I had lived in a town and if I had gone to school with other people who were interested in the same things I was, and what we might call a higher cultural level,” the 82-year-old wordsmith said in an interview with the Swedish Academy, which awarded her the Nobel literature honour.
“I didn’t have to cope with that. I was the only person I knew who wrote stories, though I didn’t tell them to anybody. I was, as far as I knew, the only person who could do this in the world for a while.”
Munro was named in October as the 110th Nobel laureate in literature and only the 13th woman to receive the distinction. She’s also the first Canadian-based author to land the prize.
Munro said being raised in the tiny southwestern Ontario community of Wingham gave her an accepted way as a young girl to grow the stories she first conjured up during long walks to school.
“I lived in a part of Ontario where women did most of the reading. Women did most of the telling of story. The men were outside doing important things, and they didn’t go in for stories. So I felt quite at home.
“I don’t know if I needed any inspiration. I just thought that stories were so important in the world and I want to make up some of these stories, and I want to keep on doing this,” she said in the pre-recorded chat from her Victoria home.
The Swedish Academy hailed her as the “master of the contemporary short story” for more than four decades of deeply layered tales set in her rustic Ontario hometown.
She said the countryside is just as fertile a place as any for remarkable narratives.
“You just have to be there. I think any life can be interesting. I think any surrounds can be interesting.”
Munro said that she at first kept her creations secret, telling no one — not even her mother, a reader.
“I can’t remember when I wasn’t writing stories. I mean I didn’t write them down, but I told them — not to her or anybody —but to myself.”
“The people around me — well most of them didn’t know I wanted to be a writer because I made sure they didn’t find out. But it would have been to most people ridiculous, because most people I knew didn’t read,” Munro said.
She said that in her youthful days the “world of reading and writing” was more open to women — more likely to be educated schoolteachers — than men, who laboured on the farms. Her first husband spurred her on to follow her writing urges.
The wide-ranging video conversation was played Saturday in place of the usual lecture from the Nobel literature winner. Munro is too unwell to travel to Stockholm to receive her Nobel Prize in literature.
“I am so grateful for this great honour. Nothing, nothing in the world could make me so happy as this,” she said.
On Tuesday, Munro’s daughter Jenny is expected at the Nobel Prize award ceremony to accept the honour from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden on her mother’s behalf.