International Women’s Day: spotlight on Alice Munro
Written by: David Staines
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, Alice Munro is far from unknown in literary award circles. For example, in Canada she has received three Governor General’s Awards for Fiction and two Giller Prizes; in the United States she became the first non-American to receive the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, the O. Henry Award for Continuing Achievement in Short Fiction, and the Lannan Foundation Literary Award for Fiction; in Britain one of her volumes of short fiction was awarded the W.H. Smith Award. And in 2009 she won the Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work.
Yet, before she won the Nobel Prize, she was an acknowledged master of short fiction without a massive readership. As Jonathan Franzen wrote in 2004 in the New York Times Book Review, “Alice Munro has a strong claim to being the best fiction writer now working in North America, but outside of Canada, where her books are No. 1 best sellers, she has never had a large readership.” A decade ago, Margaret Atwood wrote: “Alice Munro is among the major writers of English fiction of our time. She’s been accorded armfuls of super-superlatives by critics in both North America and the United Kingdom, she’s won many awards, and she has a devoted international readership … she’s the kind of writer about whom it is often said – no matter how well-known she becomes – that she ought to be better known.”
In her writings Munro explores the act of recognition rather than the act of explanation. She seeks to approach the mysterious and difficult problems of contemporary life and recognize the complexity of the human condition. To offer explanations is beyond the realm of her art; “in fact,” she comments, “our explanations take us further away.” And what she shows in her fiction is the irresolvability and yet the sustainability of life itself.”
Munro has mediated female experience in manifold ways
In The Cambridge Companion to Alice Munro, ten scholars and writers, including Margaret Atwood, Douglas Glover, and Elizabeth Hay, have written original essays which explore the many facets of Munro’s remarkable art. One of the essays by Maria Loeschnigg of the University of Graz, Austria, “Oranges and Apples: Alice Munro’s Undogmatic Feminism,” explores cogently and effectively Munro’s feminism. “By foregrounding and questioning gender-scripts, by offering multiple female perspectives, and by rendering female sensitivities and imaginaries, Munro has mediated female experience in manifold ways,” she concludes. “By inscribing these themes into a narrative style which resists the suggestion of prescriptive truths and models, she has managed to develop a mode of literary articulation which does not exchange one system of power for another, but rather deconstructs power as such through her insistently interrogative approach.”
The Cambridge Companion to Alice Munro offers an introduction to the complex art of a master storyteller of our time.
Cambridge University Press is delighted to support International Women’s Day 2017 (8th March 2017). From the 6th-10th March we will be sharing brand new blog content from our authors which explore the themes of ‘IWD 2017’ and continue the discussion on feminism and women today and through the ages.
Cambridge will also be celebrating women in academia and their work by making a variety of book chapters free to read online – including some of the most vital contributions to feminist theory and women’s history. These will be accessible from: www.cambridge.org/IWD2017
David Staines is editor of The Cambridge Companion to Alice Munro, you can read a FREE extract from the book here