THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE

Alice Munro is the reason I have this fiction blog. While that is not entirely true, neither is it entirely fiction.

            I used to think of myself as a novelist.  I was a lawyer, a recovering lawyer, and then after a considerable period of self-doubt, I called myself a writer. I became a writer when I finished my first novel and could no longer justify denying my ambition. One cannot write a novel without being a novelist. One cannot be a novelist without being a writer.

            I was therefore a writer when I enrolled in the BFA (writing) program at UVIC. Immediately academia began to whittle down my self-proclaimed novelist designation. One cannot write a novel each week to workshop with one’s peers. One must write short stories.

            My history with short stories had been, well, short. Hemingway, and miscellaneous bits and pieces of things left lying around doctors’ offices and law firm reception areas, the odd inherited literary journal, and my biweekly subscription to The New Yorker magazine.

            At university, a prose-writing program in fiction is a short story course. It may be entitled THE NOVEL, but it is the novel as seen in bite-sized pieces- for better or for worse, short stories. I’ve taken several such novel courses, and several acknowledged short story courses, notably delivered by respected and admired published short story authors Lee Henderson and Madeline Sonik.

            I am privileged to have the support of my family that allows me to indulge my desire for formal education and to have the support of the extraordinarily competent writing faculty and sessional instructors at the University of Victoria. I wonder, though, what the faculty would be like without those who smashed through the commercial and practical limitations of publishing short stories before me, without those like Alice Munro.

            Like Alice Munro. Who is like Alice Munro? In terms of her impact on the program I attend, I believe there is no one like Alice Munro.  “Don’t expect to see a big advance on your first compilation of short stories,” My professor said.  “Don’t expect to see a big advance on the second or third one either.”  Short stories don’t sell. Compilations of short stories don’t sell. They’re enticements- readership builders. Marketing devices. Warm-up bands. Paintings in the hallway on the way to the main gallery. Oh, unless you’re Alice Munro.

            By now the entire literary world knows that Munro won the Nobel prize for literature. The first resident Canadian ever to do so. And a woman. And a Westerner- from our side of the Rockies. And a short story writer. Thank you, Alice, thank you. We’ve not met, though you call my city home. We’ve not talked, though I buy my books at the store that bears your name. We’ve not collaborated, though I study the short story and post short fiction to my blog- my short fiction blog, from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, an half-kilometer from Munro’s Books.

            Alice Munro is a literary technician beyond my ambition, a people’s writer, and a talent to be admired. She’s as good as they come, reputed to be humble and worthy, and a true Canadian hero. Today Canada stands proud and one notch more respected in the literary world. Today my full curriculum of short story courses at UVIC is somehow more relevant than it was one week ago.

            Congratulations Alice.

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