The ties between Canada and Scotland are strong and complexly interwoven. To honour those ties during Canada's 150th birthday, each month, the Scottish Government website celebrates a famous Canadian who has Scottish roots. For August, they shine the light on the first Canadian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature -- Alice Munro.
Alice Munro's work has established her as "one of the greatest living writers of fiction," says the website. It points out that her father's family -- Laidlaw -- came from the Scottish Borders where they had "strong connections to Scotland’s rich literary past.... Her ancestry can be traced back to acclaimed writer and poet, James Hogg, who was a cousin on her father's side."
In its snapshot biography of the Canadian writer, the website outlines how Munro went through a tough literary apprenticeship when she began her studies at the University of Western Ontario in 1949. "Throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s there was a feeling that Canadian writers, especially female Canadian writers, were unwelcome intruders into the world of literature. This meant that for much of her early career, Munro struggled to find critical acceptance."
In 1968, Munro published her first collection of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades. It won the Governor General's Award. Still she faced a backlash. I recall travelling to her hometown of Wingham, Ontario, in the early 1980s. We stopped at a diner to ask the waitress if she knew where the farm was that was the setting of so many of her short stories. She hadn't heard of Alice Munro, but she phoned an Ontario Provincial Police constable who, she assured us, knew everyone in town -- or who had lived in that town.
She was right. "So you're looking for Alice Laidlaw?" he said slowly. "I'll tell you two things about her. She writes well. And she made us look like hicks." We followed the police cruiser past the fox farm that features so prominently in her early stories.
The Scottish Government website says, "Alice Munro has consistently railed against the stereotypes and criticism for more than half a century. In doing so she has successfully opened up the short story to wider critical and public praise. Her work has been described as being revolutionary, taking the short story from out of the shadows of the novel. Many critics have said of Munro’s work that she offers the same emotional depth of a novel in her shorter work."