Written by Marie-Pierre D'Auteuil

 

Biography of Alice mUnro

Alice Munro is the most critically acclaimed Canadian contemporary writer of our time. The New York Times has given her the distinction of “the only living writer in the English language to have made a career out of short fiction alone.”

 

Alice Munro was born Alice Laidlaw on July 10, 1931. She grew up in Wingham, a very small town located in the south west of Ontario. Her parents never had a lot of money and had to struggle to preserve a decent living. Her father, Robert Eric Laidlaw, was a farmer on the family’s fox farm. Her mother, Ann Clarke Chamney, was a school teacher. After her mother developed Parkinson’s disease, Munro had to undertake most of the domestic chores in the house. Being the oldest of 3 children, she didn’t have a lot of choices. As a teenager, she had to work as a maid for a family and wanted to become an actress.

Alice Munro started writing her first stories when she was about 15 years old. Since she lived on the outer edge of town, she used to stay at school and write instead of going home for lunch. She never showed her writings to anyone at that time because writing was considered very unusual in Wingham. Munro was a very assiduous student and when she graduated from Wingham and District High School in 1949, she earned a scholarship to the University of Western Ontario. It is while attending this university that her first short story got published. It was in the undergraduate literary magazine Folio that her story “The Dimensions of a Shadow” appeared in 1950. A year latter, Alice Laidlaw became Alice Munro when she married James Armstrong Munro on December 29, 1951. Munro left school and moved to Vancouver with her husband to start a family. It didn’t take long for her first daughter to be born. Sheila Munro was born in October 1953. She was followed by Jenny in June 1957. In 1959, Munro’s mother tragically died of Parkinson’s disease. Munro’s husband always encouraged her to pursue her writing and in 1963, they moved to Victoria where they opened a book store called Munro’s Books. Their youngest daughter, Andrea, was born in 1966.

It is only in 1968 that her first collection of fifteen short stories “Dance of the Happy Shades” was published. She then followed with “Lives of Girls and Women”, in 1971, which earned her the Canadian Booksellers Association International Book Year award. Munro and her husband lived 22 years in Vancouver and Victoria before their marriage ended up in 1973. After the divorce, Munro returned to London, Ontario where she met her second husband Gerald Fremlin, a geographer. They married in 1976 and then moved to a farm in Clinton, Ontario. Also in 1976, Munro’s father died after heart surgery. Since 1976, Munro has been a contributor to the New Yorker magazine. Ever since the beginning of the 1990s, she spends her winters in Connox, situated on the island of Vancouver. She now keeps a low profile even though some of her works are still being published. Her last publications are a collection of previously published work called “Vintage Munro” and the story “Runaway”, which both came out in 2004.

Munro is a regional author writing about small-town settings, and her stories are often compared to William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor’s stories on the rural American south. It is easy to see that Munro bases her story on her own life. Although Munro herself explained that her stories are not quite autobiographical, readers can read about characters inspired from Munro’s life. They are characters who live in a fairly poor environment in the southwestern part of Ontario. Those characters were set in the depression years. Her characters go through the same steps Munro had to go trough, and try to fit in all sorts of different complex relationships. Naming all the awards she received would be too long because she has received a lot of them since she began to write, but just to name a few: Governor General’s Literary Award for “Dance of the Happy Shades” (1969), for “Who do you think you are” (1978), for “The Beggar Maid” (1979) and for “The Progress of Love” (1987). Great Lakes Colleges Association award (1974), Canada-Australia Literary Prize (1977) and finally, the Giller Prize in 1998 are also several awards she received.

Reading Munro’s story helps us discover a little part of the woman she is.  While learning about the author, we also discover our own selves. Munro’s full glory shows in her writings as she turns ordinary events into extraordinary ones.


Works Cited

     First Series. W. H. New, University of British Columbia. The Gale Group, 1986. pp. 295-307