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Victoria basks in the glow of Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize

It was Alice Munro Day in Victoria on Thursday, her name spoken and celebrated, her books pulled off shelves for fresh and repeat readings, as Victorians absorbed the news that one of their own had won the Nobel Prize for literature.

It was Alice Munro Day in Victoria on Thursday, her name spoken and celebrated, her books pulled off shelves for fresh and repeat readings, as Victorians absorbed the news that one of their own had won the Nobel Prize for literature. And she was even in town when it happened.

The “master of the contemporary short story” — that’s the way the Nobel awards committee described her — was asleep in a Victoria hotel room early Thursday when the announcement was made in Sweden. Her daughters called and woke her with the news. (One daughter, Sheila Munro, teaches a course at Camosun College and is the author of Lives of Mothers and Daughters: Growing Up with Alice Munro.)

“At this moment I can’t believe it. It’s really very wonderful,” Munro told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview just moments after the announcement was made in Stockholm, about 4 a.m. Victoria time.

“I knew I was in the running, yes, but I never thought I would win.” She said being the first Canadian-based author to win a Nobel was “quite wonderful.”

Munro, who began her literary career while living in Victoria in the 1960s and early 1970s, said she was delighted and “just terribly surprised.”

“My stories have gotten around quite remarkably for short stories. I would really hope that this would make people see the short story as an important art, not something you play around with until you got a novel written,” she told CBC News.

Munro, 82, splits her time between homes in Clinton, Ont., and Comox, and is an occasional Victoria visitor.

In June, she said that she doesn’t plan to write anymore. Asked Thursday whether she might change her mind, she said she likely would not “because I am getting rather old.”

After those quick remarks over the phone, Munro avoided the media. Reporters from Victoria, Vancouver and even Sweden staked out the Royal Scot Hotel on Quebec Street where Munro was staying on a personal visit, but she didn’t appear.

Journalists also descended on Munro’s Books, the Government Street bookstore run by her former husband, Jim Munro, where he, his staff and Alice Munro fans spent much of Thursday celebrating her Nobel win.

Jim Munro, who marked his 84th birthday the same day, spoke of his delight as he stood inside the bookstore he and Alice started together.

He said he had had a chance to chat with his former wife, with whom he’s on friendly terms, about her win.

“She didn’t even know she was on a short list or anything. I don’t know if the Nobel has a short list. But she’d forgotten she was in the running,” he said.

Jim Munro first heard the news at 4:50 a.m., when a reporter phoned him at home.

Munro’s Books was filled with customers and staff scrambled to keep up, hastily putting up a window display showcasing Alice Munro’s books.

“Right now, the main thing is just to get enough books on order. It’s going to be like, ridiculous,” said store manager Jessica Walker.

Other Greater Victoria booksellers and librarians also reported a surge in demand for Alice Munro’s short-story collections. Russell Books said rare copies of Munro’s books were snapped up by online buyers soon after news of the prize broke.

At Munro’s, customer Linda-Mae Ross expressed delight in the win. Ross, who owns 10 Alice Munro books, became hooked on her stories as a teen after reading Lives of Girls and Women. “She really captures the ordinary in an extraordinary way,” Ross said. “She was the first Canadian writer that really, really hit me. I think I started loving literature and reading as a result of that.”

Premier Christy Clark sent congratulations, noting “while Ontario has every right to be proud of her, Alice also left her mark in Victoria, co-founding one of the best bookstores in the country, which still anchors Government Street.”

Munro’s recent works include the 2009 collection Too Much Happiness, which was nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award and a Writers’ Trust Award, and 2012’s Dear Life, which won Munro her third Trillium Book Award.

She has also won the Man Booker International Prize for her entire body of work, two Scotiabank Giller Prizes (for 1998’s The Love of a Good Woman and 2004’s Runaway), three Governor General’s Literary Awards (for her 1968 debut Dance of the Happy Shades, 1978’s Who Do You Think You Are? and 1986’s The Progress of Love), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the inaugural Marian Engel Award and the American National Book Critics Circle Award.

Munro is the first winner of the $1.3-million Nobel to be based in Canada. Saul Bellow, who was born in Canada, won in 1976, but he moved to the U.S. as a boy.

— Adrian Chamberlain, Lindsay Kines and Amy Smart, with files from The Canadian Press and Associated Press