Today’s news that author Alice Munro has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature was an “of course” moment to many who were anticipating the prize announcement — but that’s not everyone. Despite Munro’s long and prolific career, she’s what fellow author Margaret Atwood has described as “the kind of writer about whom it is often said — no matter how well known she becomes — that she ought to be better known.”
So, if you’re among those who ought to know her better, start here.
1. She writes short stories
Beware, Munro newbies: if you’re at a cocktail party tonight and somebody asks you your opinion of the Nobel winner, don’t bemoan the fact that you haven’t gotten the chance to read one of her novels. Munro, 82, doesn’t write them. The Nobel announcement cited her as a “master of the contemporary short story” and, though some of her collections contain a single narrative of interwoven stories—often about women living in small-town Canada (sometimes to a semi-autobiographical degree)—they’re not technically novels. Her fame and success is an important victory for the form of the short story, as Lev Grossman writes for TIME, since short stories are often given short shrift, a mental hurdle that the author herself has said that she had to overcome: “For years and years I thought that stories were just practice, till I got time to write a novel,” she told The New Yorker last year. ”Then I found that they were all I could do, and so I faced that.”
2. …and here are the ones to read first:
Munro herself has said that her most recent work is always her favorite, which would lead a reader to 2012′s Dear Life, but there are a few different places you could start with Munro’s oeuvre. There’s her first book, Dance of the Happy Shades, from 1968, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award—a major Canadian honor and rare for a first-timer. There are her many other award-winners, like The Love of a Good Woman (the U.S. National Book Critics Circle Award) and The Beggar Maid (shortlisted for the Booker). There are the collections recommended by other authors, like Runaway (called a “marvel” by Jonathan Franzen) and Lives of Girls and Women (which Margaret Atwood has held up as an example of Munro’s insight into the nature of life). There are also books like Selected Stories and New Selected Stories, greatest-hits collections for those who prefer that kind of thing. Or, if convenience is your goal, start at the New Yorker website: the writer has had a long relationship with the magazine, and many stories are available without a subscription.
(MORE: Alice Munro in the 2010 TIME 100)
3. You may have already seen her work, on screen
Munro’s stories have been turned into many movies and TV series. Starting in the ’70s, her stories inspired television’s The Ottawa Valley and The Newcomers, and the more recent Kristen-Wiig-starring Hateship Loveship is based on her story Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. The Munro movie you’re most likely to have seen, though, is probably Sarah Polley’s 2006 Away from Her, based on the story The Bear Came Over the Mountain
4. Er, make that “wrote short stories”: she’s said she’s retiring
In July, Munro said that she was “probably not going to write anymore“—and that she was actually serious about retirement. That means that Dear Life, her 14th short story collection, published last year, is apparently her last.
(MORE: Alice Munro in the 2005 TIME 100)
5. She’s got major Canada cred
Munro, the 17th Canadian to win a Nobel Prize, lives in Clinton, Ontario, near where she grew up. She told the New York Times that nobody there knows she’s famous, and that avoiding a lavish life of literary celebrity is part of her Canadian-ness. A Globe and Mail writer joked in May that “if you squint at the back of a Canadian $5 bill, you will see that it reads, ‘This note is legal tender’ and then, just beneath that, ‘Alice Munro is a genius.’” Her publisher said today that the news of her Nobel win has delighted “all of Canada,” and the Prime Minister congratulated her on behalf of the nation’s citizens:
On behalf of all Canadians, congratulations to Alice Munro, “master of the contemporary story,” for her Nobel Prize in Literature. #canlit
— Stephen Harper (@pmharper) October 10, 2013
6. Munro’s Books in Victoria, British Columbia, is the same Munro
The bookshop was started in 1963 by Munro and her first husband, James. (Her maiden name was Laidlaw.) It’s still there, in a location where it’s been since 1984, though Alice Munro is no longer personally involved with it.
7. She’s not exactly easy to get ahold of
Though a now-suspended fake Twitter account for the author popped up yesterday — leading with the message “Welcome! I join Twitter today. Interesting!” — the real Munro has proved elusive in the last few days:
— Nobelprize_org (@Nobelprize_org) October 10, 2013
(She knows about the award, though: she told the CBC that her daughter woke her up in the middle of the night to share the news.)