The thing about privilege is that it's easy to ignore. It's part of your particular set of fated circumstances, as much a forgettable part of your self as the shape of your nose or the writing callus on your index finger. Hearing the probably-callused Canadian writer Alice Munro interviewed by fiction editor Deborah Treisman as part of the New Yorker Festival this past weekend was an exercise in acknowledging the privilege of being a woman born in the late 20th century, but it was also a chance to admire Munro for ignoring outside stimuli and doing whatever she damn well pleased.Munro was born in rural Ontario in 1931, and she spent the first part of the interview talking about her background. Her mother had Parkinsons and the family had very little money, but Alice really wanted to go to college, so she rustled up a scholarship and shipped off to university. "Don't give me that much credit," she said. "I didn't go for education, I just went because I wanted time to myself." Her family neither encouraged nor discouraged her education; they had enough to deal with and as long as Alice supported herself financially, they didn't care what she did. The idea of writing for a living was so far outside the realm of her childhood that she had "terrific confidence. I didn't know any writers so I thought I was just great." Then Alice talked about getting married and becoming a mother in the 50s in suburban Vancouver, and Deborah Treisman said, "You've written a lot about women feeling trapped by marriage and motherhood," and she wondered if that was from Alice's personal experience. "I never felt trapped by kids or housework," Alice said, "but I felt trapped by a community of people who all did the same thing." Since writing was as unheard of in Vancouver as it was in rural Ontario, when Alice started publishing short stories people were more bewildered than anything else. The local newspaper even published a story about Alice entitled, "Housewife Finds Time To Write Short Stories." When asked if she considers herself a feminist writer, Munro said, "I don't think about it at all. I think I am a feminist politically and in my life, but that's not the purpose of (fiction) writing. You have to go down deep, and you don't start with political stuff." She spent much of the sixties raising her kids and mentally creating stories while her children were napping. But Alice emphasized the notion that writing is always hard, and rejection is even worse. You never get a thick skin, she said, but you go on anyway. And just like the deep emotional content of Munro's stories, the woman herself was forthright and funny and true. Though it's hokey, listening to Munro speak made me realize how much I take for granted. My access to education, my supportive family, the relatively egalitarian times in which I was born. But it also made me realize that the key to future success in writing is probably ignoring these outside influences like Munro banished the potential detractors who lingered outside her own mind. New Yorker Festival [New Yorker]
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Thanks for the article on my favorite rural Canadian writer of short stories. Seriously, they have their own genre.