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Tuesday, September 1, 2009 9:57 am
Is Alice Munro Stupid?
Posted by: Brad Hooper

Alice MunroWhere were you when you heard that Canadian uber-fiction writer Alice Munro has withdrawn her latest collection of stories, Too Much Happiness, from consideration for the annual Giller Prize? (The Giller is the Canadian literary award that has more money attached to it than any other Canadian literary prize: $50,000, that is.) That Munro has done so was announced on Friday, August 28 (“Alice Munro pulls book from Giller,” CBC). “Black Friday” to me.

When I heard the news, I sat at my desk pondering her decision. My gaze was fixed on one wall of my Booklist office, the wall upon which hangs one of my personal treasures. In 2008, I published a critical study, The Fiction of Alice Munro, and my publisher, Praeger, located a lovely portrait  of the lovely lady done in acrylics by a Canadian artist, and the Praeger productuion team  used it on the jacket of my book. Through the artist’s generosity, I obtained the original, and it hangs, framed, on my office wall. My shrine to Queen Alice.

She is my favorite contemporary fiction writer. I love the short-story form, and Munro made it okay for a serious fiction writer to not write novels. To know anything about Munro is to be quite aware that awards have come her way one after another, including two previous Giller Awards (in 1998 for The Love of a Good Woman and in 2004 for Runaway, both of which I highly recommend), as well as Governor General awards (equivalent to the Pulitizer Prize in the U.S.) and American awards, too, including from the National Books Critics Circle. This year she was given only the third Man Booker International Award, in honor of her body of work, an award that has been given every two years since 2005.

munro_happinessHer new collection is, in a word, stunning–one of the best of her many excellent collections. The reason she gave for removing it from Giller consideration is to give a younger writer a chance to win. (Munro is 78.)  Implied in that reason, of course, is that she is fully aware that a book of hers is an automatic high-contender. Is she being artificially or genuinely gracious, pulling her book out? What would I have done; what would you have done?

I sat and stared at my beloved portrait of her on my wall. The articles in the Canadian press that sprang up in the two to three days subsequent to her announcement have indicated that her publisher is behind her in this decision. My initial reaction was, there’s nice and then there’s stupid. Grab as many awards as you can, Alice. I would. Life is short; get ‘em while they are available.

One of the articles in the press indicated there was disappointment in the Canadian literary community that her withdrawal would mean no award-night excitement over a showdown between Munro and Margaret Atwood, the “other” Canadian goddess of letters and another likely Giller nominee this year. (The Giller is announced at a formal evening event, like our Oscars.) I spoke silently to my portrait of her: “Come on, Alice, don’t let Margaret beat you out. You know you’re better than she is. Stay in the running; do it for me.”

Do it for me? Who do I think I am? Well, just an ardent fan who wants as many people as possible to read her books. Alice smiles benevolently down on me, and I realize she knows what’s best for her. Go ask Alice. She knows what to do in a situation like this. And I know what to do, too: keep reading and loving her (and knowing in my mind she would have beat out Margaret Atwood).

Comments

comments

7 Responses to “Is Alice Munro Stupid?”
  1. thelittlefluffycat Says:

    I truly hope, should I ever be blessed enough to be in a similar position, that I would be confident enough and kind enough to do the same. Good for you, Ms. Munro – you’ve made me want to read your work and become acquainted with a heart that would produce this kind of decision.

  2. Mark Kohut Says:

    Dear Sir,

    I was fortunate to be at the Award ceremony for Ms. Munro at the Arts Club in NY a few years ago.
    (perhaps the occasion for which the portrait was commissioned…done from photographs, you know)

    Anyway, the problem as I see it is being allowed to opt out in advance. It now taints the Prize.
    As with such a different writer as Thomas Pynchon, she has every right to refuse any prizes she wants. She could NOT SHOW and prepare a statement offering the money to a New Writers’ Award Fund or anything. Or nothing.

    She could not show and not take the award if she won. But now, no matter who “wins”, they lose.

  3. cheryl larosa Says:

    I could not say this any more succinctly so I will just say I totally agree with:

    thelittlefluffycat Says:
    September 2nd, 2009 at 10:37 am
    I truly hope, should I ever be blessed enough to be in a similar position, that I would be confident enough and kind enough to do the same. Good for you, Ms. Munro – you’ve made me want to read your work and become acquainted with a heart that would produce this kind of decision

  4. Mel Neet Says:

    I have to also agree with thelittlefluffycat on this unprecedented display of generosity. And by one of my favorite fiction writers at that.

    Bravo, Ms. Munro.

  5. Kaite Stover Says:

    I’m with Mark Kohut on this one and the blog post author. Although I’m certain Ms. Munro meant it in the best, most honorable way, it’s a little rude to turn down a nomination, using the unspoken reason that Ms. Munro is the obvious favorite. That’s a little insulting to the other writers whose work was good enough to nominate. Sure, Alice Munro is probably the Meryl Streep of Canadian writing awards. But Meryl didn’t win every time she was nominated and she never took herself out of the running, either.

    I admire gracious winning. I admire gracious losing even more.

  6. Felice Piggott Says:

    Alice Munro is the Queen of Short Story writing, and all her loyal readers know it.
    Prize or no prize.
    Long live the Queen!

  7. Mary Fizzet Says:

    Good for her!
    Alice Munro Alice Munro is my favorite writer and a generous person too. I admire her decision and I do not think this is insulting to the other contesters.


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