Alice Munro and the Story House

Congratulations to Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature! She’s the thirteenth woman to win the prize and (to my surprise) the first Canadian.

Munro is largely known for her short stories. In case you haven’t read her work before, Book Riot has suggestions for how to get started. It’s been a while since I’ve read much Munro, but I’ve always liked her style–outwardly quiet stories with a lot of depth and beautifully crafted prose and characters. You can get a good sense of Munro’s writing by this quote:

“A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.”

I love Munro’s image of exploring a story like exploring a house. I know I feel like this when I’m working on a particular story, especially since I don’t do a lot of outlining and planning. Part of the fun of writing is the exploration, seeing all the different parts of the house and learning its history.

As a reader, returning to the story-house and finding it “always contains more than you saw the last time” is one reason I love rereading. There are always more room and shelves to explore.

Endure and Prevail

Last week my dad mentioned William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. I’d read it before, but it feels particularly meaningful now. My favorite part:

“I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

Bold/italics are mine. Writers, we’ve got a job to do. Let’s help humanity prevail.

Make sure to click through to see the whole speech; you can even listen to Faulkner read it!

(image: Wikipedia)