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Alice Munro finds ‘vindication’ for a lifetime of short stories

Alice Munro in Victoria, B.C., on Oct. 11, 2013. Ms. Munro is unable to attend the Nobel ceremony, but calls the ‘bewildering’ honour ‘very pleasant, very nice.’

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

She is one of the world's esteemed authors who at age 82 has risen to new heights of global fame, but the joy of winning the Nobel Prize in literature does not appear to be growing old for Alice Munro.

While Ms. Munro is with family in Victoria, her daughter, Jenny, is in Stockholm where on Tuesday she will collect the prize for a lifetime's work writing short stories that have spent the end of 2013 back at the top of bestseller lists in Canada and around the world.

Ms. Munro was described by her ex-husband as being too frail to travel to Stockholm for the ceremony and she has avoided much of the global media attention that could have swept her up, but in extended interviews posted on the Nobel website she seemed fit, sharp and very content.

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"Nothing in the world could make me so happy as this," said Ms. Munro in one interview posted on the weekend. "It's bewildering, but very pleasant, very nice."

During 75 minutes of conversation, Ms. Munro was full of her trademark self-deprecating humour, as she shared her gratitude and tried to explain what the Nobel means nearly two months after her selection was revealed.

"There's a feeling you've done the right thing. You go a long time with writing, wondering what you are doing, how it's working. You love finding out that it's worked well," she said.

Ms. Munro spends much time deflecting her personal achievement, saying the prize is an acknowledgment of the importance of the arts, and that it is vindication for the short story, the smaller cousin of the novels that usually dominate literary awards.

Ms. Munro, who began writing seriously in her 20s, when she was a busy young mother, described how she launched into the short story with little knowledge of literary pecking order, or the heartache such creation can bring.

She admitted her choice of the short story was mainly a practical matter. The short form allowed her to write in disjointed sessions between preparing meals and housecleaning.

"When I began writing short stories, there was not a very good feeling about them, it was something you were supposed to do while you cut your teeth and got big and brave enough to write a novel," she said. "Now I see this as vindication. … People like me who want to take short stories seriously can now feel comforted and realize they can work on them seriously, their whole life."

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Even the Nobel's foreign interviewers couldn't resist asking Ms. Munro if she minds being recognized as an inherently Canadian writer. It was simply all the material she had, Ms. Munro replied. "I wrote about the people I knew around me. Maybe I still feel those are the people I know more deeply," she said, adding she's never wanted to be anything else.

The interviews are sprinkled with Ms. Munro's apologies every time she felt she was becoming a little too presumptuous in her analysis of her work. "I am a straightforward Canadian woman," she said, trying to veer off from one deep analysis.

Ms. Munro stopped writing in 2012, but she said it was out of choice, rather than forced by old age or creative drought.

"I wanted to behave like the rest of the world," she said. "When you're a writer, you're doing a job people don't know you're doing and you can't really talk about, and you're always finding your way in this secret world. I guess I was a little tired of that."

Since her nomination, Ms. Munro said she's been too preoccupied to even daydream about stories, as she has since she was a five-year-old growing up in rural southwestern Ontario, let alone consider writing again.

"Of course I might, you never know. But I began to feel I'd done my best work, I felt that energy wasn't in me any more. If it came back, I would try. I'm just not sure of that ever happening."

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Jim Munro as Alice Munro's husband. Mr. Munro is her former husband. This version has been corrected.

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