Alice Munro, Canadian Nobel Prize-winning author and short story master, dead at 92

Alice Munro, Canadian Nobel Prize-winning author and short story master, dead at 92
  • PublishedMay 15, 2024

Nobel laureate Alice Munro — the Canadian literary giant who became one of the world’s most esteemed contemporary authors and one of history’s most honoured short story writers — has died at age 92.

A spokesperson for publisher Penguin Random House Canada said Munro, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013, died at home in Ontario, Canada on Monday, May 13.

Munro had been in frail health for years and often spoke of retirement, a decision that proved final after the author’s 2012 collection, Dear Life.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was one of many to mourn the loss of Munro.

“The world has lost one of its greatest storytellers,” he posted to social media platform X.

“Alice Munro was captivated with everyday life in small-town Canada. Her many, many readers are, too. She will be dearly missed.”

From housewife to writer

Born in 1931 in Ontario to a teacher mother and a fox farmer father, Munro took much inspiration from her hometown surroundings.

A top student in high school, she received a scholarship to study at the University of Western Ontario, majoring in journalism as a “cover-up” for her pursuit of literature.

A black and white photograph of a woman speaking at a podium
Alice Munro speaking at the 1990 Canada Council Molson prize, which celebrates outstanding lifetime contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of Canada.(Getty: Peter Power)

Settling with her husband and children in British Columbia, Munro wrote between housework, trips to school and helping her husband at the bookstore they co-owned (and which would turn up in some of her stories). 

Isolated from the literary centre of Toronto, she did manage to get published in several literary magazines and to attract the attention of an editor at Ryerson Press. Her debut collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, was released in 1968 with a first printing of just under 2,700 copies. A year later, it won the Governor’s General Award and made Munro a national celebrity.

By the early 70s, she had left her husband, later observing that she was not “prepared to be a submissive wife”.

Her changing life was best illustrated by her response to the annual Canadian census. For years, she had written down her occupation as “housewife”. In 1971, she switched to “writer”.

Short story master

Often ranked alongside Anton Chekhov, John Cheever and a handful of other short story writers, Munro achieved stature rare for an art form traditionally placed beneath the novel.

She was the first lifelong Canadian to win the Nobel, and the first recipient cited exclusively for short fiction.

Echoing the judgement of so many before, the Swedish academy pronounced her a “master of the contemporary short story” who could “accommodate the entire epic complexity of the novel in just a few short pages”.

Munro, little known beyond Canada until her late 30s, also became one of the few short story writers to enjoy ongoing commercial success.

The front cover of Dear Life by Alice Munro
Alice Munro’s Dear Life was published in 2012, a year before she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her life’s work.(Getty: Rene Johnston)

Sales for 2012’s Dear Life in North America alone exceeded 1 million copies, and the Nobel announcement raised it to the high end of The New York Times bestseller list for paperback fiction. Other popular books of hers included Too Much Happiness, The View from Castle Rock and The Love of a Good Woman.

Moviegoers would become familiar with The Bear Came Over the Mountain, the improbably seamless tale of a married woman with memory loss who has an affair with a fellow nursing home patient, a story further complicated by her husband’s many past infidelities.

The Bear was adapted by Sarah Polley into the 2006 feature film Away from Her, which brought an Academy Award nomination for Julie Christie.

In 2013, Kristen Wiig starred in Hateship, Loveship, an adaptation of the story Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.

In it, a housekeeper leaves her job and travels to a distant rural town to meet up with a man she believes is in love with her — unaware the romantic letters she has received were concocted by his daughter and a friend.

She was admired without apparent envy by other authors, placed by the likes of Jonathan Franzen, John Updike and Cynthia Ozick at the very top of the pantheon.

Munro’s daughter, Sheila Munro, wrote a memoir in which she confided that “so unassailable is the truth of her fiction that sometimes I even feel as though I’m living inside an Alice Munro story”.

Fellow Canadian author Margaret Atwood called her a pioneer for women and for Canadians.

Canada's Alice Munro wins Nobel Literature Prize
Canadian author Alice Munro was the 13th woman to win the Nobel literature prize.(AFP: Peter Muhly)

“Back in the 1950s and 60s, when Munro began, there was a feeling that not only female writers but Canadians were thought to be both trespassing and transgressing,” Atwood wrote in a 2013 tribute published in the Guardian after Munro won the Nobel.

“The road to the Nobel wasn’t an easy one for Munro: the odds that a literary star would emerge from her time and place would once have been zero.”


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