Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Alice Munro was born Alice Ann Laidlaw, the eldest of three children of Robert Laidlaw and Anne Chamney, on July 10, 1931. The family lived in a nineteenth century brick farmhouse at the edge of Wingham, Ontario, the small town usually disguised in her fiction as Walley, Jubilee, or Hanratty. Munro’s father, a descendant of Scottish pioneers, raised silver foxes and, later, mink. For the first two grades, Munro attended the rough Lowertown School modeled in “Privilege” (1978), where she was the only child in her class to pass first grade. At her mother’s insistence, she was transferred to the Wingham public schools where, living in imagination and books, she felt even more isolated. She worked on an unfinished gothic novel during high school, influenced by Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847).
After World War II the popular demand for furs lessened, and eventually the fox farm failed; times were so hard that the Laidlaws had to burn sawdust for heat. In 1947 Robert Laidlaw took a job as night watchman at the local iron foundry, raising turkeys as a sideline. Anne Laidlaw, an elementary teacher of Irish descent, had been forced to abandon her career because married women were not allowed to teach. In her mid-forties she developed a devastating form of Parkinson’s disease contracted from the encephalitis virus. Munro had to do all the housework from the time she was twelve and as a teenager worked as a maid for a Toronto family. Her feelings toward her mother were intensely ambivalent, and there were frequent clashes.
Winning a two-year scholarship enabled Munro to attend the University of Western Ontario, where in 1949 she entered the journalism program, switching to English in her second year. At her boardinghouse she received a full breakfast but had a meager food allowance of thirty-five cents for the rest of the day. She held two library jobs and sold her blood for extra income. In the spring of 1950, she published her first story, “The Dimensions of a Shadow,” in Folio, the campus literary magazine. By then she was engaged to James Munro, a fellow student. When her scholarship expired in 1951, she was forced to leave school, returning home to care for her temporarily bedridden mother. She and James were married at her parents’ home in Wingham just after Christmas.
Munro’s eldest daughter, Sheila, has noted that her parents’ marriage paralleled in many respects the mismatched backgrounds of Patrick and Rose in Munro’s story “The Beggar Maid” (1977). While Munro’s circumstances were modest,...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
One of the most impressive things about Munro’s fiction is that she is able to write about ordinary people and their problems with “an art that works to conceal itself.” Breaking nearly every rule of the traditional short story, she has transformed the genre. Her talent is widely respected, and her contemporaries praise her. Cynthia Ozick has compared her to a classic Russian author (“She is our Chekhov”), while Mona Simpson and Jonathan Franzen, among others, have suggested that Munro is worthy of a Nobel Prize. Munro has broken ground for subsequent generations of women writers by increasing an awareness of the whole of female experience, with clear vision, insight, and compassion.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Alice Munro was born July 10, 1931, in Wingham, Ontario, Canada, where her father raised silver foxes. A scholarship covering the years 1949-1951 to the University of Western Ontario led to her bachelor’s degree in 1952. Her marriage to bookstore owner James Munro produced three daughters. After a 1976 divorce, Munro married geographer Gerald Fremlin; they established homes in Clinton, Ontario, and Comox, British Columbia.
Alice Munro grew up in a small rural community in western Ontario. Her father spent most of his life raising fox for the commercial fur market, which resulted in a life of poverty or abundance, depending on the changing conditions of the foxes and the market. Her childhood was filled with struggling to belong to her peer group and always excelling at academics. Her intelligence won for her scholarships to high school and college, and poverty made her drop out of college after her second year. Fear of poverty enticed her to marry Jim Munro when she was twenty.
Munro spent her entire childhood believing that she could and would write a great novel. She began writing poetry at age twelve and always kept her work hidden from her mother and family. After her marriage, she continued to write in secret, believing the cultural dictates of the times that women were either wives and mothers or artists, not both. Munro’s work often deals, not surprisingly therefore, with the mother-child roles. Her parental characters are often composites of her own parents, grandparents, and other family members. Her descriptions of the town and countryside almost exactly recall the community of her youth.
Munro was able to publish several works a year while her children were growing up, and she became steadily more prolific. She uses the language of women talking about their lives. Munro’s work is truly a matrilineal narrative in a literary world dominated by men’s voice and realities.
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Born on July 10, 1931, in rural southwest Ontario, Canada, in the region east of Lake Huron, Alice Munro and her younger brother and sister were the children of Robert Eric Laidlaw, a farmer, and Anne Chamney Laidlaw, a former elementary school teacher turned homemaker. The family always seemed to be struggling financially. With the failure of his fox-farming business in 1948, Munro’s father became a night watchman in a local foundry and began raising turkeys in 1952. In 1943, when Munro was twelve, her mother began a long decline because of Parkinson’s disease, which led to her death sixteen years later.
Although her mother hoped that her daughter would escape their hometown of Wingham, Ontario, Munro’s future was expected to be that of a farmer’s wife. From the age of nine, however, she wanted to be an author. At fifteen she started writing, spending her school lunch hour composing stories while her classmates, who lived closer to the school, went home to eat. She finished a novel—a romantic, gothic work that later was stored in her father’s basement and eventually thrown out by her stepmother.
In 1949, she received a scholarship that enabled her to attend the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, where she majored in journalism, a more explainable choice, she thought, than writing. While an undergraduate, she published her first story, “The Dimensions of a Shadow,” in a university journal and sold another to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio. On December 29, 1951, she married James Munro, a bookseller, left the university, and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. During the twelve years the couple lived in Vancouver, she cared for the family house and tended to the needs of her two daughters, Sheila, born in 1953, and Jenny, born in 1957. Another daughter, Catherine, was born in 1955 and died shortly after her birth. Writing but discarding much of what she wrote, Munro did sell a few stories each year to small journals, such as the Canadian Forum, Mayfair, Montrealer, and Queen’s Quarterly. In 1963, the family moved to Victoria, British Columbia, where Munro and her husband opened a bookstore, Munro’s Books. Another daughter, Andrea, was born in 1966.
In 1968, at age thirty-seven, Munro published her first collection of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades. For these stories, Munro drew on the familiar. The characters share traits with her, her...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Alice Munro, writing about ordinary people in ordinary situations, creates a portrait of life in all of its complexities. In her richly textured stories, she explores the nuances of relationships, the depths of emotions, and the influence that one’s past has on the present. With a few details, she is able to evoke someone’s personality or an entire geographical region. She is a master at creating a short story that is as fully developed as a novel.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Alice Munro is one of Canada’s best writers of short fiction. She was born to Robert Eric Laidlaw, a fox farmer, and his ailing but ambitious wife, Ann Chamney Laidlaw. In 1949 Munro left her birthplace of Wingham to attend the University of Western Ontario. In 1951 she married James Munro and moved to Vancouver, where she and her husband had two daughters. In 1963 the couple moved to Victoria, British Columbia, and in 1966 they had a third child, another daughter.
From her youth, Munro had been writing stories. Her early efforts were romantic tales, like her first published work, which appeared in a student publication...
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Born in Wingham, Ontario, on July 10, 1931, Alice Munro published her first story in 1950 while attending Western Ontario University, where she majored in English. Her first collection of short stories, however, Dance of the Happy Shades, was not published for another eighteen years. Munro comments that Wingham and its surroundings play an important part in her stories, both in their literal and emotional landscapes. She says in her Introduction to Selected Stories (1996) that “the ways lives were lived [in Wingham], their values, were very 19th century and things hadn’t changed for a long time. So there was a kind of stability...that a writer could grasp pretty easily.” Marrying in 1951 soon after she left the...
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IntroductionAlice Munro is the voice of small-town Canada. While many authors from the United States portray small-town life through the lens of nostalgia and Americana, Munro’s Canadian depictions are decidedly leaner. One of the many aspects of her writing that has earned critical praise is her ability to create intensely moving characters and stories using simple, straightforward language. Hers is a writing style that focuses not on plot and incident, but character, place, and time. Her stories offer glimpses into the lives of everyday people, and she eschews high-octane melodrama and sentimentality. Nevertheless, Munro’s work continues to captivate readers because of its rich, emotional detail and honest reflections of real life.
- Munro’s simple writing style and success in the short story format have earned her the reputation of Canada’s answer to Anton Chekhov.
- Munro’s daughter, Sheila, is also a writer. She published a memoir documenting her childhood and relationship with Alice. The result was Lives of Mothers and Daughters: Growing Up With Alice Munro.
- Now in her seventies, Munro claimed upon the 2006 publication of a collection of her stories, that no future compendiums would be released.
- Munro has won the Governor General’s Award, an extremely prestigious Canadian literary honor, an astounding five times.
- In 2007, Munro’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” was adapted by actress/writer/director Sarah Polley into the critically acclaimed film Away From Her.
Alice Munro was born Alice Laidlaw in 1931, in Wingham, Ontario, Canada. She grew up near the Great Lakes that border the United States and Canada, in rural environs such as are featured in much of her early fiction. She attended public schools and was considered such a good student that she advanced a grade early on. She began writing fiction while in high school, and even wrote a novel during this time which she has said was derivative of Emily Bronte’s famous Wuthering Heights. She won a scholarship to attend the University of Western Ontario and spent two years there as an English major. It was there that she first published short stories, in a university publication. She left the university upon her marriage to James Munro, when the couple moved to British Columbia.
During the 1950s, Munro continued to write while raising her first two daughters. She sold some of her stories to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for dramatization and radio shows. Munro had a third daughter in 1966, and then in 1968 her first collection of short stories, The Dance of the Happy Shades, was published. ‘‘Boys and Girls’’ is from this first collection of stories. Munro’s only novel was published in 1971. In 1974 a second collection of stories was published. With this third publication Munro established herself as a contemporary writer of note.
Munro has seven published books to her credit, six of which are collections of short stories, making her a specialist in the short story genre. Most national literatures have writers who specialize in this way, another notable author being Anton Chekhov an early twentieth-century Russian writer famous for his short stories. It has often been said, therefore, that Munro is Canada’s Chekhov.
Munro’s fiction is consistently favorably received by critics and the reading public alike, and she has won numerous awards for her writing. She has been invited to be Writer-in-Residence at various universities, including her alma mater, the University of Western Ontario (which conferred her an Honorary D.Litt. in 1976).