Read 20 Short Stories From Nobel Prize-Winning Writer Alice Munro (RIP) Free Online

Note: Back in 2013, when Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture, we pub­lished a post fea­tur­ing 20 short sto­ries writ­ten by Munro. Today, with the sad news that Alice Munro has passed away, at the age of 92, we’re bring­ing the orig­i­nal post (from Octo­ber 10, 2013) back to the surface–in part because you can still read the 20 sto­ries free online. Please find the sto­ries at the bot­tom of this post.

Call­ing her a “mas­ter of the con­tem­po­rary short sto­ry,” the Swedish Acad­e­my award­ed 82-year-old Alice Munro the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture today. It is well-deserved, and hard-earned (and comes not long after she announced her retire­ment from fic­tion). After 14 sto­ry col­lec­tions, Munro has reached at least a cou­ple gen­er­a­tions of writ­ers with her psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly sub­tle sto­ries about ordi­nary men and women in Huron Coun­ty, Ontario, her birth­place and home. Only the 13th woman writer to win the Nobel, Munro has pre­vi­ous­ly won the Man Book­er Prize in 2009, the Gov­er­nor General’s Lit­er­ary Award for Fic­tion in Cana­da three times (1968, 1978, and 1986), and two O. Hen­ry Awards (2006 and 2008). Her region­al fic­tion draws as much from her Ontario sur­round­ings as does the work of the very best so-called “region­al” writ­ers, and cap­ti­vat­ing inter­ac­tions of char­ac­ter and land­scape tend to dri­ve her work more so than intri­cate plot­ting.

Of that region she loves, Munro has said: “It means some­thing to me that no oth­er coun­try can—no mat­ter how impor­tant his­tor­i­cal­ly that oth­er coun­try may be, how ‘beau­ti­ful,’ how live­ly and inter­est­ing. I am intox­i­cat­ed by this par­tic­u­lar land­scape… I speak the lan­guage.” The lan­guage she may have learned from the “brick hous­es, the falling-down barns, the trail­er parks, bur­den­some old church­es, Wal-Mart and Cana­di­an Tire.” But the short sto­ry form she learned from writ­ers like Car­son McCullers, Flan­nery O’Connor, and Eudo­ra Wel­ty. She names all three in a 2001 inter­view with The Atlantic, and also men­tions Chekhov and “a lot of writ­ers that I found in The New York­er in the fifties who wrote about the same type of mate­r­i­al I did—about emo­tions and places.”

Munro was no young lit­er­ary phenom—she did not achieve fame in her twen­ties with sto­ries in The New York­er. A moth­er of three chil­dren, she “learned to write in the sliv­ers of time she had.” She pub­lished her first col­lec­tion, Dance of the Hap­py Shades in 1968 at 37, an advanced age for writ­ers today, so many of whom have sev­er­al nov­els under their belts by their ear­ly thir­ties. Munro always meant to write a nov­el, many in fact, but “there was no way I could get that kind of time,” she said:

Why do I like to write short sto­ries? Well, I cer­tain­ly did­n’t intend to. I was going to write a nov­el. And still! I still come up with ideas for nov­els. And I even start nov­els. But some­thing hap­pens to them. They break up. I look at what I real­ly want to do with the mate­r­i­al, and it nev­er turns out to be a nov­el. But when I was younger, it was sim­ply a mat­ter of expe­di­en­cy. I had small chil­dren, I did­n’t have any help. Some of this was before the days of auto­mat­ic wash­ing machines, if you can actu­al­ly believe it. There was no way I could get that kind of time. I could­n’t look ahead and say, this is going to take me a year, because I thought every moment some­thing might hap­pen that would take all time away from me. So I wrote in bits and pieces with a lim­it­ed time expec­ta­tion. Per­haps I got used to think­ing of my mate­r­i­al in terms of things that worked that way. And then when I got a lit­tle more time, I start­ed writ­ing these odd­er sto­ries, which branch out a lot.

Whether Munro’s adher­ence to the short form has always been a mat­ter of expe­di­en­cy, or whether it’s just what her sto­ries need to be, hard­ly mat­ters to read­ers who love her work. She dis­cuss­es her “stum­bling” on short fic­tion in the inter­view above from 1990 with Rex Mur­phy. For a detailed sketch of Munro’s ear­ly life, see her won­der­ful 2011 bio­graph­i­cal essay “Dear Life” in The New York­er. And for those less famil­iar with Munro’s exquis­ite­ly craft­ed nar­ra­tives, we offer you below sev­er­al selec­tions of her work free online. Get to know this author who, The New York Times writes, “rev­o­lu­tion­ized the archi­tec­ture of short sto­ries.”

“Voic­es” - (2013, Tele­graph)

A Red Dress—1946” (2012–13, Nar­ra­tive—requires free sign-up)

Amund­sen” (2012, The New York­er)

Train” (2012, Harper’s)

To Reach Japan” (2012, Nar­ra­tive—requires free sign-up)

“Axis” (2001, The New York­er — in audio)

Grav­el” (2011, The New York­er)

“Fic­tion” (2009, Dai­ly Lit)

Deep Holes” (2008, The New York­er)

Free Rad­i­cals” (2008, The New York­er)

Face” (2008, The New York­er)

Dimen­sion” (2006, The New York­er)

“Wen­lock Edge” (2005, The New York­er)

“The View from Cas­tle Rock” (2005, The New York­er)

Pas­sion” (2004, The New York­er)

Run­away” (2003, The New York­er)

“Some Women” (2008, New York­er)

The Bear Came Over the Moun­tain” (1999, The New York­er)

“Quee­nie” (1998, Lon­don Review of Books

Boys and Girls” (1968)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

29 Free Short Sto­ries from Some of Today’s Most Acclaimed Writ­ers: Mar­garet Atwood, David Mitchell & More

Kurt Von­negut Offers 8 Tips on How to Write Good Short Sto­ries (and Amus­ing­ly Graphs the Shapes Those Sto­ries Can Take)

Hear Neil Gaiman Read Aloud 15 of His Own Works, and Works by 6 Oth­er Great Writ­ers: From The Grave­yard Book & Cora­line, to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven & Dick­ens’ A Christ­mas Car­ol


Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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