- Peter Carey (Australia)
- Evan S. Connell (USA)
- Mahasweta Devi (India)
- E.L. Doctorow (USA)
- James Kelman (UK)
- Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)
- Arnošt Lustig (Czechoslovakia)
- Alice Munro (Canada)
- V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad/India)
- Joyce Carol Oates (USA)
- Antonio Tabucchi (Italy)
- Ngugi Wa Thiong’O (Kenya)
- Dubravka Ugresic (Croatia)
- Ludmila Ulitskaya (Russia)
The international award highlights one writer's continued creativity, development and overall contribution to fiction on the world stage. It is awarded every two years.
Now, these are some heavyweights. E.L. Doctorow's that sneaky kind of writer whose books gets better the more you pay attention to them. Folks in English-speaking countries seem to weirdly overlook the gigantic presence of Mario Vargas Llosa's talent. Dubravka Ugresic is increasingly appealing to me and increasingly everywhere. Joyce Carol Oates (a former Detroiter) writes like a book a day, often very impressive books, and has published in every genre your pretty little head can think of. And Ngugi Wa Thiong'O has a life story almost as dramatic as his novels; he manifests the power and purpose of language in his person and on the page.
But I want this to be Alice Munro's day.
It's been said that the only reason Munro hasn't won a Nobel Prize is because she writes short stories, rather than novels. It's been said that her mastery of the short story--and influence over other writers--rivals Anton Chekhov. Big words, sure. And, okay, I suggested them myself. (Though I'm hardly the only one. Right, Jonathon Franzen? Right, Cynthia Ozick?)
But the fact is, Munro's so good. They are funny and peculiar and sweeping and particular; they are many-sided and they are addictive. She's ubiquitous in MFA programs--practically a patron saint for those learning the craft--and her books have reached a popular audience: Runaway was on the bestseller list for months. I defy you to come up with another book of short stories (not an anthology) that has been a bestseller.
But given her body of work and her immense talent, it's bizarre to me that Munro's been excluded from the bigtime prizes--like the Nobel, like the Man Booker International (this is her second time being nominated for one). It's true, she has her share of other awards, including the Governor General's in Canada (three wins), an NBCC, and the Medal of Honor for Literature from the U.S. National Arts Club.
All well and good, but it's time for her contributions to fiction to be honored on the top levels. Writer Jason Roberts said he's surprised "that hordes of dazzled, appreciative readers haven’t gathered in the Ontario countryside, woven their own Nobel Prize out of roots and branches, and presented it to her door."
Franzen thinks Munro doesn't win the big awards because of the "glass ceiling" for short story writers (and because there's too much to fiction, too much pleasure in Munro's storytelling, too much centering of people in her work that the Powers That Be think she can't possibly be canon-worthy good):
McGrath's prejudice is shared by nearly all commercial publishers, for whom a story collection is, most frequently, the distasteful front-end write-off in a two-book deal whose back end is contractually forbidden to be another story collection. And yet, despite the short story's Cinderella status, or maybe because of it, a high percentage of the most exciting fiction written in the last 25 years -- the stuff I immediately mention if somebody asks me what's terrific -- has been short fiction. There's the Great One herself, naturally. There's also Lydia Davis, David Means, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel and the late Raymond Carver -- all of them pure or nearly pure short-story writers ... There are also, to be sure, some very fine pure novelists. But when I close my eyes and think about literature in recent decades, I see a twilight landscape in which many of the most inviting lights, the sites that beckon me to return for a visit, are shed by particular short stories I've read.
Munro has something to say. So c'mon, Man Booker International. Read the stories "Carried Away," "Vandals," "A Wilderness Station," "Runaway," "The Albanian Virgin," "Tricks" and "The Begger Maid," give your prize to one of the best writers alive, and let there be no more about it.
The winner of this year's Man Booker International Prize will be announced in May 2009, and the winner will be presented with their award at a ceremony in Dublin on 25 June 2009.
Image Credit: The List; Fantastic Fiction