Alice Munro: 7 insights on writing from the Nobel Prize winner
All hail "Canada's Chekhov"
Alice Munro has been lauded as "Canada's Chekhov" thanks to her amazing skill as a short-story writer. And while she is no stranger to acclaim and awards, on Thursday she became just the 13th woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the first Canadian to win the prize since Saul Bellow in 1976.
"She has taken an art form, the short story, which has tended to come a little bit in the shadow behind the novel, and she has cultivated it almost to perfection," the Swedish Academy's permanent secretary, Peter Englund, told the Associated Press.
Munro's stories, often set in rural Ontario, where she lives, have appeared in 14 original short story collections and regularly in publications like The New Yorker and The Paris Review. While the 82-year-old Munro doesn't tweet, her friend (and revered author in her own right) Margaret Atwood expressed her feelings online.
For the sake of everyone who loves short stories, here are seven quotes about the craft of writing from Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro.
On writing short stories
I don't really understand a novel. I don't understand where the excitement is supposed to come in a novel, and I do in a story. There's a kind of tension that if I'm getting a story right I can feel right away, and I don't feel that when I try to write a novel. I kind of want a moment that's explosive, and I want everything gathered into that. [via The New York Times]
On whether she considers herself a feminist writer
Naturally my stories are about women — I'm a woman. I don't know what the term is for men who write mostly about men. I'm not always sure what is meant by "feminist." In the beginning I used to say, well, of course I'm a feminist. But if it means that I follow a kind of feminist theory, or know anything about it, then I'm not. I think I'm a feminist as far as thinking that the experience of women is important. That is really the basis of feminism. [via The Atlantic]
On her influences
The thing about the Southern writers that interested me, without my being really aware of it, was that all the Southern writers whom I really loved were women. I didn't really like Faulkner that much. I loved Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Katherine Ann Porter, Carson McCullers. There was a feeling that women could write about the freakish, the marginal. [via Paris Review]
I have never kept diaries. I just remember a lot and am more self-centered than most people. [via New Yorker]
I've often made revisions at that stage that turned out to be mistakes because I wasn't really in the rhythm of the story anymore. I see a little bit of writing that doesn't seem to be doing as much work as it should be doing, and right at the end I will sort of rev it up. But when I finally read the story again it seems a bit obtrusive … There should be a point where you say, the way you would with a child, this isn't mine anymore. [via Paris Review]
On creating convincing characters
I always have to know my characters in a lot of depth — what clothes they'd choose, what they were like at school, etc. And I know what happened before and what will happen after the part of their lives I'm dealing with. I can't see them just now, packed into the stress of the moment. So I suppose I want to give as much of them as I can. [via Knopf]
On making sacrifices
It's certainly true that when I was young, writing seemed to me so important that I would have sacrificed almost anything to it … Because I thought of the world in which I wrote — the world I created — as somehow much more enormously alive than the world I was actually living in.
As you get older your rampaging need to write diminishes a bit. You have to face the amazing fact that you're probably going to die, at some time, anyway. So everything you do in your life then seems more relative because it's just part of your life. [via The Atlantic]