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Award winning short stories

Short stories are often a hard sell for any bookseller – readers either love them or hate them. Writers such as Alice Munro have spent all of their professional lives writing only short stories. Authors, Alistair MacLeod, William Trevor, Mavis Gallant, Bernard MacLaverty, William Trevor and many others have had literary reputations as masters of the short story and have gone on to write equally excellent novels.

Novelists often begin their careers as short story writers, publishing first in literary magazines, and then a collection of short stories. To me the short story can be a perfect little gem – to be savoured one by one in a collection over hours or days – or used as a sort of palate cleanser between novels. They can be just the right length for a run on the treadmill, a short read in the bath, or before falling asleep, or for some perhaps read during a commute to work on the subway or streetcar.

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It is happy news that short stories are getting some very good press these days with the announcement, a few weeks ago, that Alice Munro has been awarded the Novel Prize for Literature, and just last week with Lynn Coady’s collection Hellgoing winning the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and short listed for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Award.

When I first came to Toronto in the early 1970’s a marvelous bookshop on Yonge Street, Longhouse Books, had just opened and carried books written exclusively by Canadian writers – a lot by Canadian women. Longhouse was my frequent destination and the shop where I bought Dance of the Happy Shades, Alice Munro’s first book, published in 1968, winning the Governor General’s Award that year. Then Lives of Girls and Women in 1971, and in 1978 her collection Who Do You Think You Are?, also awarded a Governor General’s Literary Award. Longhouse unfortunately is long gone but Alice Munro is very much still with us, over the past 45 years she has written scores of stories, published in 14 collections.

Alice Munro has been granted many awards, including the Man Booker International Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize and several Governor General’s Literary Awards. This year’s Nobel Prize for Literature has brought her work even more international attention. Alice Munro was also awarded this year’s annual Harbourfront Festival Prize, based on the merits of her published work and her contributions to fostering the next generation of literary talent.


Another, less known writer of short stories, is Tracy Winn whose debut collection,Mrs. Somebody Somebody, takes place for the most part in Lowell, Massachusetts. The first story takes place in 1947 at the Hub Hosiery Mill. I read, “That day Lowell looked good the way used-up brick towns can when the light is right.”. I knew I would love this story. Tracy Winn uses words with a kind of Marlon Brando feel – tough sharp – intelligent – gutsy – gritty. One of the young women working in the mill is Stella, and she just wants to be Mrs. Somebody Somebody. At this time women were addressed as Mrs. Charles Burroughs, women having only the status of their husband’s position. Stella is a no nonsense person – she knows what she wants – but not knowing that how she goes about may be right or wrong.

The second story Blue Tango moves forward in time to the grandson of the owner of the Hub Mill. Dr. Charlie Burroughs has just returned from serving in the Korean War and wonders if the wife he left behind thirteen months ago still needs his company.
The stories that follow in this collection see characters from earlier stories flow into and out of each one that follows – every one of them engaging and satisfying to read.
Tracy Winn writes about the “stew of memory and imagination and uses it very successfully to blend fact and fiction in a brilliant collection of stories.

Along with the Alice Munro stories you are going to revisit, Mrs. Somebody Somebody will round out your own short story reading this fall.

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