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Mixed Bag: Story Time for Grown-Ups, Featuring Alice Munro

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Mixed Bag: Story Time for Grown-Ups is a short story read-aloud program that meets every two weeks at lunch time (1:00 p.m.) Mixed Bag PM meets at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesdays every two weeks. This story is a Mixed Bag reading for September and October.

In her short story "Walker Brothers Cowboy," Alice Munro paints a word portrait of a little girl growing up in rural Canada in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Living on the shores of Lake Huron, the only job her father could find after their fox farm went bankrupt was as a door-to-door salesman for Walker Brothers (a fictional company similar to the U.S.-based Watkins, Inc.), selling health remedies, baking products, and household items to local farmers. She and her younger brother sometimes accompanied him on his route.

Alice Munro, born in 1931, is a Canadian short story writer whose stories are set primarily in Huron County in her native southern Ontario. She won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 for her lifetime body of work and is a three time winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction in Canada (1968, 1978, and 1986). She also won the O. Henry Award for short fiction twice, for "Passion" (2006) and "What Do You Want to Know For?" (2008).

Munro’s work is often compared to American regional authors such as Southern Gothic authors Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, and Eudora Welty. Her style includes a lot of descriptive detail; plot is secondary, a literary characteristic she has in common with Chekhov. The emphasis is on the depth of the interactions between ordinary people rather than the overt actions that occur during the story. A recurring theme in her early work is a young girl coming of age and coming to terms with her life. Recently she has been writing about older women and coming to terms with age.

In 2006, for example, she published a selection of her best stories, Carried Away, which includes both early and recent work. One of the stories is "The Bear Comes Over the Mountain" which was adapted to film. The film, Away From Her, starring Julie Christie, is about a long-married couple in which the wife has Alzheimer's disease. The wife falls in love with another man in the nursing home, having forgotten all about her long-term spouse. It received two Oscar nominations in 2007 for best screenplay and best actress.

Although many of her stories are not intentionally autobiographical, Munro draws upon personal experiences in this story: her father owned a fox farm that failed; the little girl who narrates this story is about the same age as Munro would have been at the time the story is set; she also has a younger brother. This story was published in Munro’s first collection of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), which won the Governor General Award that year. It is also included in a collection of her earlier stories, Selected Stories by Alice Munro.

The 2006 O. Henry Award-winning story “Passion” was published in The New Yorker, March 22, 2004. It explores different definitions of passion as the characters experience it at various ages. Full-text of the story is available online. The 2008 O. Henry Award-winning story “What Do You Want to Know For?” was published in The View from Castle Rock. It is an autobiographical story of Munro and her husband researching a mysterious crypt in an old cemetery over a period of weeks while they await the results of her breast cancer biopsy. It is also available from NYPL as an audiobook read by Kimberley Farr.

Munro's latest book of short stories, Dear Life, will be released November 13, 2012. The early review from Library Journal states, "The stories here highlight key moments when one's life changes forever. Don't miss."

Trivia: The "Watkins Man" was an important part of rural life in the mid-twentieth century. A 2002 TNT movie called Door-to-Door told the true story of Bill Porter, a man with cerebral palsy who was employed by Watkins, Inc. as a door-to-door salesman for over fifty years. The film stars William H. Macy as Porter, Helen Mirren as Porter's mother and Kyra Sedgwick as his assistant.

Looking for more stories?

  • Find print and audiobook short story collections in the Library Bibliocommons catalog or the classic catalog.
  • Download eBooks and eAudiobooks from the eNYPL collection.
  • Listen to Selected Shorts on WNYC, Saturdays at 10pm on 93.9 FM and Sundays at 1 p.m. on AM 820. You can download the current episode or subscribe to the podcast.

Read short stories online:

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