TORONTO -- Speak the name Alice among Canadian readers and
writers, and no last name is required. The cliches abound but are no
less sturdy for that. Short-story writer extraordinaire Alice Munro
is "Our Chekhov," a "national treasure."
So, when it was announced Thursday that she had won the Nobel
Prize for literature, Facebook and Twitter lit up like Toronto's
Skydome when the Blue Jays won their first World Series in 1992.
Eyes teared with pleasure. The collective national heart swelled
with joy and pride -- a suitably restrained pride; anything more
would be un-Canadian. The collective national head is beaver-busily
examining what this might mean for Canadian Literature, often
referred to as CanLit.
Ms. Munro is the first Canadian -- unless you count Saul Bellow,
and he himself wouldn't; this most American of American writers left
Canada when he was 9 -- to win literature's ultimate prize. And that
has to make a difference, n'est-ce pas?
Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper, not much loved by the arts
community, weighed in with a statement: "Munro is a giant in
Canadian Literature, and this Nobel Prize further solidifies
Canada's place among the ranks of countries with the best writers in
So is this prize significant for Canada, and Canadian writing,
like -- as some have claimed -- winning the gold medal in Olympic
For novelist Margaret Atwood, herself recipient of a major
international prize (the 2000 Booker Prize for "The Blind
Assassin"), the prize is, as she put it in an interview Thursday,
"vindication of the fact that Canada has a literature, that we have
For Jack Rabinovitch, founder of the Scotiabank Giller Prize,
Canada's most prestigious award for fiction (Ms. Munro has won it
twice, and has also been a juror), her win "serves notice that
Canadian literature is on a par with any writing in the world. Every
sentence she writes is a gem. And she's not only an outstanding
writer, she's an outstanding human being."
But for Andre Alexis, a novelist, critic and playwright, the
honor is tinged with sadness. "I realize it's often awarded late in
a writer's career, but this feels literally valedictory." And
indeed, Ms. Munro has said her most recent book, the quasi-
autobiographical "Dear Life," was to be her last. Most people figure
that, at 82, she has earned the rest.
But as Mr. Alexis points out, this is hardly the first time
CanLit has made an international splash. Michael Ondaatje, Ms.
Atwood, Carol Shields and Yann Martel ("Life of Pi") have all won
major literary awards.
While Canadians everywhere are rejoicing, this country's writers
and critics are thinking about the Munro legacy.
For Mr. Alexis: "Canadian writers have learned to judge ourselves
against her. She's been hugely influential in raising the standards
of our literature. What the Nobel signifies is that, since she has
been our standard of excellence, that standard is now recognized
internationally as a gold standard. …