Edge Hill lecturer and short story expert, Dr Ailsa Cox, has presented at a prestigious international conference on the life and work of Canadian author, Alice Munro – the only British academic to take part.
The Alice Munro Symposium, which took place at the University of Ottowa in May, featured keynote presentations from Munro’s biographer, Robert Thacker, her agent, Virginia Barber, and Professor Charles E May, one of the foremost authorities on the short story genre, as well as contributions from a host of renowned international academics.
As a member of the conference panel, Ailsa’s presentation explored the role of the infant in Munro’s work, drawing on stories from two of her acclaimed collections, The Love of a Good Woman and Dear Life.
I’m interested in the way Munro plays with notions of reality in her storytelling. How do we know what’s true? Both of the stories I’m looking at, My Mother’s Dream and Dear Life, recount incidents that happened during early childhood, told later from the perspective of the child or the mother. The narrators in both reconstruct events, blurring the lines between real life, memories and speculation.”
“The figure of the baby is also interesting as it represents a meeting point between the past and the future; the inheritance of previous generations and the hopes and expectations of the parents. Although both stories appear at the end of Munro’s collections they are about beginnings rather than endings. The baby represents the continuum of life.”
Ailsa, whose 2003 book, Alice Munro, is one of the only critiques of her work to be written by a UK author, is a long-time admirer of Munro’s craft as a short story writer.
Alice Munro is thought of as a writer’s writer. When I started studying her for my PhD in the early 90s, no-one had really heard of her, except other writers. Although she published her first collection in 1968, she’s had a very slow burn of public recognition – maybe because she only writes short stories, possibly because she is a very modest person who doesn’t court publicity.
In the 21st century she is deservedly recognised by readers and academics alike as one of our greatest living short story writers. Munro has been a huge influence on my own writing so I was delighted to be invited to share my thoughts on her work with other Munro scholars. As a result of appearing at the Symposium, I have now been asked to contribute to a Chinese language journal about Alice Munro, which will raise her profile further around the world.”
Alice Munro’s work has been described as “having revolutionised the architecture of short stories”. She has published 14 original short story collections and is cited as a major influence on generations of authors from AS Byatt to Anne Enwright. In 2013 she won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Dr Ailsa Cox is a fiction writer and critic, with a special interest in the short story genre, whose stories have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. As well as teaching on Edge Hill’s Creative Writing programmes, she is editor of peer-reviewed journal, Short Fiction in Theory and Practice, coordinator of the annual Edge Hill Prize for the Short Story, and co-director of the newly formed European Network for Short Story Research.