STOCKHOLM AND OTTAWA - Canada's Alice Munro won the Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday for her short stories that focus on the frailties of the human condition.
A photo taken on June 25, 2009 in Dublin, Ireland shows Canadian author Alice Munro who has been awarded the 2013 Nobel Literature Prize, the Royal Swedish Academy announced on Thursday. (AFP photo)
She is just the 13th woman to win the coveted award, and the first Canadian.
The Swedish Academy described Ms Munro, 82, as a "master of the contemporary short story", a genre that has only rarely been honoured with the world's most prestigious literary award.
It hailed her "finely tuned storytelling, which is characterised by clarity and psychological realism. Some critics consider her a Canadian Chekhov."
"Her stories are often set in small town environments, where the struggle for a socially acceptable existence often results in strained relationships and moral conflicts -- problems that stem from generational differences and colliding life ambitions," it said.
Her works include Who Do You Think You Are? (1978), The Moons of Jupiter (1982), Runaway (2004), The View from Castle Rock (2006) and Too Much Happiness (2009).
The collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001) became the basis of the film Away from Her from 2006, directed by Sarah Polley. Her most recent collection is Dear Life (2012).
Canada's Alice Munro books, the Nobel laureate in literature 2013, are seen at the Royal Swedish Academy in Stockholm on Thursday. (AFP photo)
The author said she was "just terribly surprised'' - and delighted - to learn early Thursday that she had won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
"I knew I was in the running, yes, but I never thought I would win,'' Munro told The Canadian Press news agency in Victoria, British Columbia, calling the award "quite wonderful", according to the Toronto Star newspaper.
The writer told the CBC that she had been awakened by her daughter with the news that Sweden's Nobel Committee had given her its literature prize.
She said she always viewed her chances of winning the Nobel as "one of those pipe dreams'' that "might happen, but it probably wouldn't''.
"It's the middle of the night here and I had forgotten about it all, of course,'' she told the Canadian broadcaster.
Born on July 10, 1931 in Wingham, Ontario, she grew up in the countryside.
At just 11 years old, she decided she wanted to be a writer, and never wavered in her career choice.
"I think maybe I was successful in doing this because I didn't have any other talents,'' she once said in an interview posted on YouTube.
"I'm not really an intellectual,'' Ms Munro said. "I was an okay housewife but I wasn't that great. There was never anything else that I was really drawn to doing so nothing interfered in the way life interferes for so many people.''
Her focus on the activity of writing means she is not the kind of writer who revels in book-signing events or other publicity work.
When the Swedish Academy announced it had awarded her the Nobel prize on Thursday, it had still not been able to reach her.
"She is not a socialite. She is actually rarely seen in public, and does not go on book tours,'' commented American literary critic David Homel.
Munro herself has said she writes about the "underbelly of relationships''.
She said she sets her stories in Canada "because I live life here at a level of irritation which I would not achieve in a place that I knew less well''.
"There are no such things as big and little subjects,'' she has said. "The major things, the evils, that exist in the world have a direct relationship to the evil that exists around a dining room table when people are doing things to each other.''
In 2009, Munro won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize for her body of work.
Tipped as one of the favourites in the days before Thursday's announcement, Munro is just the 13th woman to win the Nobel Literature Prize since it was first awarded in 1901.
The last woman to receive it was Herta Mueller of Germany in 2009.
She is also the first Canadian to win the prestigious honour. Saul Bellow, who won the Nobel Literature Prize in 1976, was born in Canada, but later became a US citizen.
Munro will receive the prize sum of eight million Swedish kronor (38.5 million baht).
She will be presented with her award at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on Dec 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896.
Last year, the award went to Chinese novelist Mo Yan.
Belarussian writer Svetlana Alexievich and longtime favourite Haruki Murakami of Japan emerged as serious challengers for the Nobel Literature Prize just hours before the winner was unveiled.
Mr Alexievich, an investigative journalist and documentary writer, had 4/6 odds of winning at bookmaker Ladbrokes.
Mr Murakami, who had topped the Ladbrokes list in recent days, was second with odds of 4/1.
A Nobel for Murakami, known across the globe for works such as Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore and 1Q84, would delight millions of readers.
The 64-year-old has attracted an avid following with his intricately-crafted tales of the absurdity and loneliness of modern life, which are peppered with references to pop culture.