May 17, 2024

Celebrating the wonderful talent of Alice Munro, 1931-2024

UCalgary literary archive offers a look at the Nobel Prize winner’s life in writing
Munro presentation
Alice Munro, President Norman Wagner, University Librarian Alan MacDonald and staff attend the presentation of the Alice Munro fonds in November 1981. Courtesy Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary. Legacy identifier 84 005_37 06_10a-11. Unique image identifier: CU112748235.

Alice Munro, celebrated author and master of the short story, died this week. It is a deep loss for the literary world and especially for Canadian literature. The University of Calgary’s Archives and Special Collections revisits its unique and lasting connection to “Canada’s Chekhov.”

In November 1981, Alice Munro traveled to the University of Calgary to present a portion of her literary archive to University Librarian Alan MacDonald. 

How did the University of Calgary come to hold the literary archive of a future Nobel Prize-winning author with a deep connection to Ontario?

Seven years earlier, famed Canadian author Mordecai Richler had suggested to Kenneth Glazier (then-university librarian) he should pursue Munro’s archive to bolster the university’s growing collection of archival papers. The university had already acquired the papers of Hugh MacLennanW.O. Mitchell and Mordecai Richler

Richler considered Alice Munro one of the outstanding Canadian writers of that time. Munro agreed to place her archive with the University of Calgary and made several donations between 1980 and 2003. 

The archive contains all the letters she received, correspondence with her editors and publishers and fellow authors, her manuscripts, notebooks and physical iterations of every draft. 

“Our collection of Canadian authors’ papers is arguably the best in the world and Munro is the jewel in that collection,” explains Jason Nisenson, archivist for literary collections.

Munro’s natural affinity for storytelling began at an early age. She grew up outside of Wingham, Ontario with a long walk to and from school. She made up stories to pass the time and started writing them when she was 10 or 11. She went on to study English and journalism at (now) Western University before moving to British Columbia when she was 20. 

Her story, The Strangers, was broadcast on the CBC radio program Anthology in 1951. She published her first collection of stories Dance of the Happy Shades in 1968. The book won the Governor General’s Award for English Fiction in the same year. In 2013, at the age of 82, she received The Nobel Prize in Literature for her life’s work. To date, she’s the only Canadian to receive this global honour.

“Munro developed the short story in an amazing way. She invited an intimacy with readers,” explains Annie Murray, rare books and special collections librarian. “She was also raising children and running a bookstore with her husband, so she was a very relatable person but also clearly a genius.”

Munro used practical, coil-bound lined notebooks to write many of her early stories. The notebooks hold evidence of her family life, with her daughters’ sketches and doodles occasionally making an appearance. 

“This was in the era of handwriting and typewriters, so there’s a physical iteration of every draft [in the archive],” explains Annie Murray. 

Indeed, this literary archive offers an incredible opportunity for scholars and fans to learn how these remarkable stories evolved.

  • View more photos of Alice Munro attending the presentation event in November 1981. Attendees included Alan MacDonald, director of libraries; Norman Wagner, university president; Lucia Laidlaw; Bill Laidlaw; Jean Tener; Margaret Sinkey; Caroline Ryder and other library staff.

In 2016, the University of Calgary Press published Reading Alice Munro, 1970-2013. The title is available open access. 

The University of Calgary’s Archives and Special Collections is currently planning an exhibition on Alice Munro, which will draw heavily from her archival fonds. 

Contact Archives and Special Collections with any questions about the archive or to schedule an appointment to view its contents.