R.I.P. Alice Munro (1931 – 2024)

“Compared to Anton Chekhov for her peerless short stories for which she won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, Alice Munro (left) has died.FULL STORY


Alice Munro (1931 – 2024)

May 14th, 2024

by Alan Twigg

Winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize, twice winner of the Giller Prize; three times the recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, Alice Munro is peerless. In 2013 she became the first Canadian and only the thirteenth woman to be accorded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Her work has gained her the distinction accorded by the New York Times as “the only living writer in the English language to have made a major career out of short fiction alone.” She is also the recipient of the 11th George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an Outstanding Literary Career in British Columbia. “Alice Munro has devoted her career to the short story,” wrote a reviewer for The Times (U.K.), “and when reading her work it is difficult to remember why the novel was ever invented.”

Alice Munro with her daughter Sheila Munro, 2005 after getting the Award for Outstanding Literary Career in British Columbia (now called the George Woodcock Award).

Alice Munro was born Alice Ann Laidlaw in Wingham, Ontario on July 10, 1931. She was raised on a farm with a sister and a brother. Before he turned his hand to farming, her father, Robert Eric Laidlaw, had raised foxes and minks and worked as a watch-man. Her mother, Anne Clarke Laidlaw, was a former teacher who developed Parkinson’s disease and died in 1959. While she undertook a large share of the domestic duties, Alice Laidlaw nursed her improbable ambitions to become a writer. “I think choosing to be a writer was a very reckless thing to do,” she told CBC’s Shelagh Rogers in 2004, “although I didn’t realize it. I was planning an historical novel in grade seven. It gave way to a Wuthering Heights novel I was writing all the way through high school.” Alice Munro has also said, “My oddity just shone out of me.”

At age eighteen, Munro won a scholarship to the University of Western Ontario where she studied for two years; published her first short story, “The Dimensions of a Shadow” in 1950, in Folio, an undergraduate literary magazine; and she met fellow student Jim Munro. They married in December of 1951 and moved to Vancouver where their two eldest daughters were born. Another daughter died of kidney failure on the day she was born.

As outlined in a biography by Robert Thacker, within a month of her arrival in Vancouver in 1952 with her new husband, Alice Munro got a part-time job at the Kitsilano branch of the Vancouver Public Library. She worked part-time for VPL until the fall of 1952, then full-time until June of 1953. After her first daughter, Sheila, was born in October of 1953, she worked part-time until her next pregnancy in 1955.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Munros lived with their two young daughters above Dundarave village in West Vancouver. They became friendly with two other couples in the area, Harry and Jessie Webb, who were bohemian artists at 2476 Bellevue Avenue, near the Dundarave pier; and editor/writers Stephen and Elsa Franklin who were planning to open the Pick-a-Pocket Bookshop at 2442 Marine Drive. The Franklins were commissioned to design the bookstore’s interior; the Munros were initially going to be partners.

Alice and Jim Munro’s Pick-a-Pocket Bookshop in West Vancouver, 1962. Photo by Jessie Webb.

After the bookstore became a fixture on the same side of the street as Libby’s Drugstore, the Franklins moved east to Ontario where Elsa Franklin became the manager of Pierre Berton’s career. (Jim Munro received the Order of Canada for operating Munro’s Books in Victoria from 1963 onward, but the initial impulse to operate a bookstore arose from Pick-a-Pocket Books in Dundarave, still a laid-back enclave where Alice Munro once briefly rented an office in order to write. What she wrote in the office became the basis of a story about a female writer being unable to escape the role of caring for others.)

In Vancouver Alice Munro befriended Margaret Laurence, another housewife who was learning to write, and she was inspired by the success of local novelist Ethel Wilson, who she also met. As a mother, Munro has been described by one of her daughters as more of a watcher than a nurturer.

Alice Munro at Munro’s Bookstore in Victoria, circa 1963.

After moving to Victoria in 1963, Alice Munro helped establish Munro’s Books, now generally considered one of the finest independent bookstores in Canada, and she gave birth to her youngest daughter in 1966. She resided in Vancouver and Victoria for 22 years before her first marriage ended and she moved back to Ontario.

After separating from her husband in 1973, Alice Munro became writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario in 1974. In 1975, she moved to Clinton, Ontario, in Huron County, with a former university friend, Gerald Fremlin, a geographer, partially in order to help look after his mother. Clinton is located approximately 35 kilometres from Wingham where she grew up. (The issue of Folio in which she had first published a short story also contained a story by Fremlin, who is slightly older than her.)

Alice Munro married Fremlin after she was divorced in 1976, the year she received her first honorary doctorate (having been unable to finish university due to lack of funds). For many years Alice Munro divided her time between residences in Clinton in Ontario and Comox on Vancouver Island.


First edition copy of Dance of the Happy Shades.

Encouraged by CBC’s Radio’s Robert Weaver since 1951, Alice Munro sold her first short story to Mayfair magazine in 1953. “I never intended to be a short-story writer,” Munro once said. She has suggested she might have opted for the short story approach to fiction because she was balancing her duties as the mother of three children, but she also spent many of her formative years as a writer trying to write a novel without success. Alice Munro’s first short story collection, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), received the Governor General’s Award for Fiction.

Her follow-up, Lives of Girls and Women (1971), was marketed as a novel and received the Canadian Booksellers Award. Her reputation began spreading to the United States. “The short story is alive and well in Canada,” wrote Martin Levin in The New York Times (September 23, 1973), reviewing Dance of the Happy Shades, “where most of the 15 tales originate like fresh winds from the North.”

A frequent contributor to the New Yorker magazine since 1976, Alice Munro has firmly established her reputation as Canada’s most consistent writer with her impeccable style and exacting perceptions. All her books have been well-received and feature heroines who seek some measure of control over their lives through understanding, while flirting with recklessness. “The complexity of things — the things within things — just seems to be endless,” Munro has said. “I mean nothing is easy, nothing is simple.”

Munro’s work has received many literary prizes, including three Governor General’s Awards, the Giller Prize, a Canada Council Molson’s Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Prize, the first Canada-Australia Literary Prize and the first Marian Engel Award. She is the first Canadian to receive the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the Rea Award for lifetime achievement in short stories.

Alice Munro’s Runaway (2004) has eight stories that reflect her dual hometowns of Comox and Clinton. More than one reviewer has suggested it’s impossible to characterize the subject matter of Runaway because Munro’s beguiling stories are so multi-layered and diverse, but she has herself noted, “what I wanted to do in this book was take these sharp turns in people’s lives.” Three linked tales follow Juliet, a young teacher who visits her fisherman lover’s home the day after his wife’s funeral. In the title story, Munro keeps the reader guessing as to how a white goat’s disappearances relates to a couple’s unraveling relationship. The final story covers almost a lifetime in its 65 pages. The collection earned Munro her second Giller Prize and numerous other awards.

In the early 1990s Alice Munro began spending her winters in Comox, on Vancouver Island, keeping a low profile. Her daughter Sheila Munro published an astute and revealing autobiographical and critical study of their family relationship and her mother’s books, Lives of Mothers and Daughters (2001), with Alice Munro’s encouragement and consent. An authorized and respectful biography by Robert Thacker appeared four years later.

Lives of Girls and Women was the basis for a Canadian movie that featured Munro’s daughter Jenny as the heroine Del Jordan. A short film adaptation of her story “Boys and Girls” won an Oscar in 1984. Sarah Polley’s superb cinematic adaptation of Alice Munro’s story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” renamed Away from Her and starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Movie still from “Away From Her,” based on an Alice Munro short story, starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent.

Alice Munro became only the third recipient of the new Man Booker International Prize in June of 2009. Certainly part of her appeal is that her work is distinctly Canadian in a classic “Who Do You Think You Are” mold: It is imperative not to get uppity, to eschew arrogance, or at least feign humility. Typically, she told her Man Booker audience at Trinity College in Ireland that writing, for her, has always amounted to “always fooling around with what you find. … This is what you want to do with your time–and people give you a prize for it.”

In one of the more believable stories in Too Much Happiness (2009), entitled “Fiction,” a graduate of the UBC Creative Writing department has published her first collection of stories called How Are We To Live. The protagonist, Joyce, is an older woman who once gave this girl music lessons as a child. Joyce has realized this up’-n’-coming writer is the daughter of the woman to whom she lost her first husband when they were all living at place called Rough River, decades before. Curiosity sends Joyce to the author’s book launch at a North Vancouver bookstore. From her classically Canadian perspective, Munro writes, “Joyce has never understood this business of lining up to get a glimpse of the author and then going away with a stranger’s name written in your book.” The self-confident young author has written a story that completely documents the domestic complications that were witnessed as a child, the various intrigues that led to Joyce’s divorce, and yet she does not recognize her former music teacher in the flesh. She is very busy taking herself seriously as an author. There is a poster of her wearing a little black jacket, tailored, severe, very low in the neck, and Munro adds, “Though she has practically nothing there to show off.”

This is about as scathing as Alice Munro gets. The self-satisfied young author has simply reiterated reality without going to the trouble of fictionalizing it, adding nuances of her own. This writer “sits there and writes her name as if that is all the writing she could be responsible for in this world.” Then there is a line break. An open space on the page. A reprieve. The once-jilted Joyce, since remarried to a 65-year-old neuro-psychologist, has left the book signing. And Alice Munro adds a final paragraph.

“Walking up Lonsdale Avenue, walking uphill, she gradually regains her composure. This might even turn into a funny story that she would tell some day. She wouldn’t be surprised.”

Alice Munro died at her home in Port Hope, Ontario on May 13, 2024.


SELECTED AWARDS: International Man Booker Prize, Governor General’s Award (3), PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, Giller Prize (2), The Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, W.H. Smith Prize in the U.K., National Book Circle Critics Award in the U.S., Trillium Prize, Molson’s Prize, Libris Award, Rea Award for Lifetime Achievement, Terasen Lifetime Achievement Award (renamed George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award). Harbourfront Prize, 2013. Nobel Prize for Literature, 2013.





WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? (1978). Published as THE BEGGAR MAID: STORIES OF FLO AND ROSE in the United States and U.K. (1978)








RUNAWAY (2004)




DEAR LIFE (2012)



Munro, Sheila. Lives of Mothers and Daughters (M&S, 2001).
Thacker, Robert. Alice Munro: Writing her Lives (M&S, 2005).

Short Story Compilations

Selected Stories – 1996
No Love Lost – 2003
Vintage Munro – 2004
Carried Away: A Selection of Stories – 2006
New Selected Stories – 2011


Probable Fictions: Alice Munro’s Narrative Acts, ed. by Louis K. Mackendrick (1981); Controlling the Uncontrollable: The Fiction of Alice Munro by Ildiko De Papp Carrington (1989); Dance of the Sexes: Art and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro by Beverly Rasporich (1990); Alice Munro: A Double Life by Catherine Ross (1992); The Tumble of Reason: Alice Munro’s Discourse of Absence by Ajay Heble (1994); The Influence of Painting on Five Canadian Writers by John Cooke (1996); Alice Munro by Coral Ann Howells (1998); The Rest of the Story: Critical Essays on Alice Munro, ed. by Robert Thacker (1999); Reading in: Alice Munro’s Archives by Joann McCaig (2002). Reading Alice Munro, 1973-2013 by Robert Thacker (University of Calgary Press 2015).


Angus Store on Davie Street, circa 1940s. Photo Vancouver Archives.

A Letter to Alice Munro

13 September 2017

Dear Alice Munro,

After reading Ethel Wilson’s Swamp Angel this past weekend I just had to write you. From 1954 to 1959, I was the delivery boy for Angus Meat Market on Davie Street, just up from the Kensington Apartments on Nicola Street where Ms. Wilson and her husband, Dr. Wallace Wilson, lived. It was when I was 10-15 years old, and yes, I do remember her. Whenever I parked my one speed bike outside her apartment and rang her doorbell, she invited me into her place. She also usually treated me with milk and cookies – I think it was cookies; it could have been cake. And we talked. I can’t remember what we talked about but I do remember hearing the CBC on her radio.

After reading Swamp Angel I went online to read more about Ethel Wilson and discovered that you and Margaret Laurence also visited her. Maybe even at the same apartment where I delivered her sausages, bacon, chicken and whatnot. Maybe the three of you were even on the receiving end of a dinner that Ms. Wilson cooked for the three of you and her husband. I dunno. Just thinking about it as I write this letter gives me a kind of shiver to know that as a pre-teen and young teen, Ms. Wilson and I met about once a week.

As that meat-delivering boy, I did not know that Ms. Wilson was one of Canada’s three wise women – Margaret Laurence, Alice Munro, Ethel Wilson – but only discovered this years later after reading Alan Twigg’s Vancouver’s Literary Landmarks. Yes, you can smile at my characterization of you as one of Canada’s “three wise women.” Or are you shaking your head? More on this later.

I taught high school English and Drama for 33 years (1969 – 2002), most of them being in Surrey, BC. A vivid memory about your Lives of Girls and Women comes to mind when I was teaching on a Canadian Armed Forces Base in Lahr, West Germany from 1975 – 1978. In my Grade 11 class, I always read aloud sections of your novel to the kids because one of their assignments was to choose any work of Canadian fiction and to write an essay response to it. I think the chapter I read was titled “Baptizing.” I wish that I could find the novel in my library right now, but can’t. Sorry – probably lent it to someone but forgot who.

Anyway, I remember sharing with my students the episode of Del Jordan and Jerry Storey in some kind of awkward sexual situation. It always grabbed their interest! Well, while reading it, all of the kids suddenly sprang up out of their desks and rushed to the windows. A helicopter was landing on the soccer field as often happened on this DND base. It was a kind of ritual. Funny how that memory sticks with me. Even remembering Del Jordan and Jerry Storey after more than four decades says something about remembering them as real human beings rather than merely characters in a novel.

And now Maggie Lloyd of Swamp Angel has joined Del Jordan in being unforgettable characters. It makes me wish that I were still teaching. To whet kids appetite for Canlit, I also read aloud from Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel. Her Hagar Shipley so much reminds me of my own mother. More on this later. So – three wise women of Canada create three wiser women in Canlit! An English teacher’s dream! But it will have to make do that I share this with my four grandsons and continue as a volunteer in their English classes. Wish me luck!

During the same years that I delivered meat to Ethel Wilson, there was an experience that was unique – at least to me. A woman opened her apartment door to me wearing a long-flowing negligee. When I gave her the parcel to collect the money she owed me, I saw her go to her Hoover vacuum cleaner, turn the suction section towards her, lift up its flap and take out a wad of bills. She then paid me. When I explained this episode to Fred, the owner of Angus Meat Market, I asked him, “What’s going on here?” “It’s a whore house!” he replied. I was 11 or 12 years old and befuddled. Looking back at this incident, it seems like one I would discover in one of your short stories.

I hope that you are as well as you can be. No… better! All I know is what The Vancouver Sun reported – that you had cancer. After my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer she lived for another five years, beating the doctor’s prediction by more than four years. Yes, like Hagar, she was one tough cookie! And like Del, she was a self-made woman who knew what she wanted, went after it and usually got it! She was also Maggie, who refused to let herself be defined by her mistakes but created herself out of her strengths.

One day while lying in her palliative care bed at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Vancouver, she pointed to a crucifix hanging high up on the wall, right above the foot of her bed. “Would you get that guy down for me?” she asked me. Well, this being a Catholic Hospital – and my mother being an unbeliever – I quickly went out into the hallway, looked both ways to make sure that no nuns or priests or nurses were around, returned, and gave her the wooden crucifix. But before doing so I looked at the back of it. “Made in the Black Forest, Germany” it said. Before giving it to her, I smiled and said to her, “Mom, have some respect for this guy – he was born in the same country as you!” She took the crucifix, read its back, cradled it in her hands and then, while shaking her head, returned it to me saying, “There’s three of him and one of me. Why can’t one of him save me? Put the useless bugger back up!” I laughed out loud as my mother continued shaking her head, knowing that both of us shared her outlook on the guy who could not help her.

Dear Alice Munro, I think of you and hope that your death is as you wish it. I can’t seem to find the words as I type this letter. My mother chose the kind of death she wished to have. It was the best death that I have ever witnessed. She kept her sense of humour until the end. Sister Emeretina, her head nurse, said to me about 48 hours before she died, “Your mother will go into a coma within the next 24 hours or so. If you have anything to say to her, please do so.” For the last week of her life, the Sister even prepared a cot beside my mother so I could be there 24/7. I am the only child and she sacrificed much in immigrating to Canada, but this is another story. And the Sister was right. She did go into a coma and about a day later, died. I share this with you because I believe that you share this quality with my mother – you are a no nonsense person when it comes to death. Yes, that’s it, I think.

Thank you, dear Alice Munro, for all your sacrifices that made you Alice Munro the writer. Del Jordan thanks you; Hagar Shipley thanks you; Maggie Lloyd thanks you. Yes, Margaret Laurence and Ethel Wilson too.

“Rutsch gut rein!” we say in German on December 21st to welcome in the new year. It means something like “Slide well into it.” I think that it could also be used as a kind of secular blessing welcoming the unknown and that your journey there is a good one.

Much Love,

Heinz Senger.

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