STOCKHOLM -- Alice Munro of Canada was awarded literature's highest honor Thursday, saluted by the Nobel committee as a thorough but forgiving chronicler of the human spirit.
Ms. Munro, 82, is the 13th female literature laureate in the 112-year history of the Nobel Prizes and the first woman to receive the award since Herta Mueller in 2009.
Ms. Munro is also the rare author to win for short stories. Her books having sold more than 1 million copies in the U.S. alone, she has long been an international ambassador for the short story, proof that the narrative arc and depth of characterization expected from a novel can be realized in just 30 to 40 pages.
Her stories are usually set in Ontario, her home province. Among her best-known is "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," about a woman who begins losing her memory and agrees with her husband that she should be put in a nursing home. Canadian actress-director Sarah Polley adapted the story into the 2006 film "Away from Her," starring Julie Christie.
In the story "Dimensions," Ms. Munro introduces a chambermaid named Doree, who needs to take three buses for a visit to a "facility" outside Clinton, Ontario. "Dimensions" begins in close-up, then steadily pulls back. With every page, the story darkens, and terrifies. The "facility" is an institution where Doree's husband is held, having murdered their children.
Ms. Munro won a National Book Critics Circle prize in 1998 for "The Love of a Good Woman" and was a finalist in 2001 for "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage." She is also a three-time winner of the Governor General's prize, Canada's highest literary honor.
The daughter of a fox farmer and a teacher, she was born Alice Anne Laidlaw in Wingham, a conservative Canadian town west of Toronto.
She received a scholarship to study at the University of Western Ontario, majoring in journalism, and was still an undergraduate when she sold a story to CBC radio in Canada. She dropped out to marry a fellow student, James Munro, had three children and became a full-time housewife.
Her good fortune was to open a bookstore with her husband, in 1963. Stimulated by everything from the conversation of adults to simply filling out invoices, she saw her narrative talents resurface but her marriage collapse.
Her first collection, "Dance of the Happy Shades," came out in 1968 and won the Governor General's prize.
First Published October 10, 2013 8:00 PM