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Alice Munro
Biography Chronology

Biography (b. 1931)

Alice Munro
Alice Munro, 1993. Reproduced by permission of Canapress Photo Service.

Nearly all of Alice Munro’s fiction is set in southwestern Ontario, but her reputation as a brilliant short-story writer goes far beyond the borders of her native Canada. Her accessible, moving stories offer immediate pleasures while simultaneously exploring human complexities in what appear to be effortless anecdotal re-creations of everyday life. In one novel and eight collections of stories she has established herself as a major voice among fiction writers.

Munro was born into a family of farmers on July 10, 1931, in the small rural town of Wingham, Ontario. She began writing in her teens. She published her first story in 1950 while a student at Western Ontario University, but she left school to marry and moved to British Columbia, where she had three children and helped her husband establish a bookstore. This marriage broke up in 1972 when she returned to Ontario, and she remarried in 1976. Her first collection of stories, Dance of the Happy Shades, was not published until 1968, but it was highly acclaimed and won that year’s Governor General’s Award, Canada’s highest literary prize. This success was followed by Lives of Girls and Women (1971), a collection of interlinked stories that was published as a novel and won the Canadian Booksellers Association International Book Year Award.

Her remaining seven books are all short story collections, two of which also won the Governor General’s Award in 1978 and 1986: Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You (1974); Who Do You Think You Are? (1978, titled The Beggar Maid in English and American editions); The Moons of Jupiter (1982); The Progress of Love (1986); Friend of My Youth (1990); Open Secrets (1994); and Selected Stories (1996). In addition, her stories are regularly printed in such publications as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Grand Street, Mademoiselle, and The Paris Review.

The subject matter of Munro’s stories has clearly developed from her own experience. She has explained in various interviews that her stories are not autobiographical, but she does claim an "emotional reality" for her characters that is drawn from her own life. Munro’s life experiences¾ of growing up in a relatively poor provincial southwestern Ontario town during the depression, negotiating the rebelliousness and idealism of adolescence, discovering sex, leaving home, testing herself at university, falling in love, getting married, having children, getting divorced, making a living, and getting along in a variety of complicated relationships¾ all inform the fiction she creates.

Her fictional world ranges across the breadth of Canada from Ontario to British Columbia, but most readers agree that her Ontario stories, rooted as they are in her own formative past, represent more evocative settings experienced in childhood and recollected by a perceptive adult memory. Many commentators compare Munro’s interest in small-town settings to the use that American regional writers make of the rural South. Her characters, like Faulkner’s or Flannery O’Connor’s, often find themselves confronting entrenched customs and traditions, but their behavior is usually less overtly desperate and violently intense than that of their southern counterparts. To be sure there are drunks, suicides, molesters, lunatics, and bizarre eccentrics in Munro’s stories, but Faulkner’s Emily Grierson and Abner Snopes or O’Connor’s Misfit represent more extreme character types than the more ordinary men and women who populate Munro’s fictions.

In Lives of Girls and Women Munro has a character, Del Jordon, explain what she hopes to achieve in writing a work of fiction about small-town life in Ontario. Del works hard to portray not only what is actually "real" about the town, but what is meaningfully "true," and in order to do so she must capture the dull, ordinary simplicity of her neighbors’ daily lives. Del’s description of her efforts has often— and rightly — been used by critics to describe Munro’s own intentions as a writer: "What I wanted was every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together— radiant, everlasting." And that’s really the point to be made about Munro’s realistic technique: what is "everlasting," what is remembered and transformed into meaning, are details made "radiant," details that have been arranged and illuminated with meaning. Munro’s stories are filled with glimpses of what she describes in "An Ounce of Cure" as the "shameless, marvelous, shattering absurdity" of life.


1931 Born on July 10 in Wingham, Ontario.
1949 Graduates from Wingham and District High School.
1949–51 Attends University of Western Ontario.
1950 Publishes her first short story, "The Dimensions of a Shadow".
1951 Marries James Munro and moves to Vancouver, British Columbia.
1953 Daughter Sheila born.
1957 Daughter Jenny born.
1963 Moves to Victoria and establishes Munro Books (bookstore).
1966 Daughter Sarah born.
1968 Publishes first collection of stories, Dance of the Happy Shades; wins Governor General’s Literary Award.
1971 Lives of Girls and Women is published.
1972 Divorces James Munro; writer-in-residence, University of Western Ontario.
1973 Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You is published.
1976 Marries Gerald Fremlin and moves to a farm outside Clinton, Ontario.
1978 Who Do You Think You Are? (titled Beggar Maid in American editions) is published; wins Governor General’s Literary Award.
1979–82 Tours in Australia, China, and Scandinavia.
1980 Writer-in-residence at University of British Columbia and University of Queensland.
1982 Moons of Jupiter is published.
1986 The Progress of Love is published; wins Governor General’s Literary Award and Marian Engel Prize.
1990 Friend of My Youth is published; wins Canada Council Molson Prize.
1994 Open Secrets is published.
1996 Selected Stories is published.

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