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Book News: Alice Munro Wins Nobel Prize In Literature

The Nobel Prize committee called Canadian author Alice Munro, seen in 2009, a "master of the contemporary short story."
Peter Muhly
AFP/Getty Images
The Nobel Prize committee called Canadian author Alice Munro, seen in 2009, a "master of the contemporary short story."

This post was updated at 9:30 a.m.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Alice Munro, "master of the contemporary short story," has won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy announced Thursday morning. The Nobel committee noted that the Canadian author's "texts often feature depictions of everyday but decisive events, epiphanies of a kind, that illuminate the surrounding story and let existential questions appear in a flash of lightning." In a statement released by her publisher, Munro said she is "amazed, and very grateful," adding, "I'm happy, too, that this will bring more attention to Canadian writing." Munro is the first Canadian author to win the prize, aside from Saul Bellow, who was born in Canada but lived in the U.S. NPR's Lynn Neary celebrated the choice on Morning Edition, saying, "In a really short space of time, she can provide a fully realized story that provides remarkable insight into human beings, their shortcomings, their complexities, their loves, their lives." (You can read several of Munro's recent short stories, including the excellent "Deep-Holes" over at The New Yorker.) Academy Permanent Secretary Peter Englund lauded Munro's focus on a small Canadian landscape of "broad rivers and small towns," adding that "she has everything she needs in this small patch of earth." Munro, who is 82, recently announced that she likely will give up writing: "Not that I didn't love writing, but I think you do get to a stage where you sort of think about your life in a different way. And perhaps, when you're my age, you don't wish to be alone as much as a writer has to be." Englund noted Thursday that if Munro does indeed stop writing, it's OK, saying, "What she's done is quite enough." The Nobel is given annually to "the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction," according to the will of prize founder Alfred Nobel.
  • For the literary magazine n+1, Alice Gregory writes an utterly captivating essay about surfing (in a David Foster Wallace writing about tennis kind of way). She narrates, "Zach Wormhoudt, in green, is confidently zooming left on a wave when a mantle of foam suddenly obscures him. The wave he's taken off on has collapsed, going from a dark, coherent form to chaos — messier and whiter and maybe even bigger than a cloud. We all gasp. About twenty seconds later, he bobs up like a rubber ball. I can't make out his features from here, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was grinning."
  • PEN features a new poem by Sherman Alexie, "The Shaman of Ice Cream" (which plays with Wallace Stevens' poem "The Emperor of Ice-Cream"). Alexie writes: "In his coffin, our father is cold to the touch /... He is a fossilized hive./ If I picked him up, I could shake him/ like a gourd rattle. / Let this goodbye be a death scream. / The only shaman is the shaman of ice cream."
  • Flavorwire runs excerpts from the diary of a teenage F. Scott Fitzgerald, who evidently developed his spelling skills later in life: "Finally Violet had a party which was very nice and it was the day after this that we had a quarrel. She had some sort of book called flirting by sighns and Jack and I got it away from Violet and showed it too all the boys. Violet got very mad and went into the house. I got very mad and therefor I went home. Imediatly Violet repented and called me up on the phone to see if I was mad. However I did not want to make up just then and so I slammed down the receiver."
  • Alexandra Schwartz reports on bookstore culture in France: "As online sales rise, Amazon has come to be seen in France as le mastodonte américain, the mammoth capitalist interloper rumbling across the Atlantic to trample on the delicacies of culture."
  • For NPR, Martha Woodroof delves into the complicated romance between author and agent: "Most book sales to major houses still are made through agents. So why, in this uncertain age dominated by the hunt for the next blockbuster, do agents even mess with first-time novelists? Because they fall in love."
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.