Rejection letters of Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro found at Harry Ransom Center


Lauren Ussery

Old rejection letters from publishers addressed to author Alice Munro were recently found in the Harry Ransom Center. Munro was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature earlier this month, making her the thirteenth woman and first Canadian to win the award.


Nicole Cobler

An archive of rejection letters revealed 2013 Nobel Prize winner in Literature Alice Munro’s initial difficulties publishing her work in an American market.

Munro’s work, which won her the Nobel Prize on Oct. 10, is known for themes of self-discovery and gender roles. She is the first Canadian to receive the award and the 13th woman to ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Ransom Center holds a large number of rejection sheets as part of the Alfred A. Knopf archive, a New York publishing company, including one for Munro’s first book of short stories and one for her first novel.

“I think [the collection] speaks to what difficulties she had in the genre in which she was working,” said Jean Cannon, literary collections research associate at the Ransom Center. “It’s remarkable to me that she would stick with it and not give in to the pressure to write a novel.” 

One letter written in 1968 by Knopf’s editor Judith Jones after reading Munro’s first book of short stories, “Dance of the Happy Shades,” said her book had nothing particularly new or exciting, and it could be easily overlooked. In another letter from Jones to Munro on her first novel, “Lives of Girls and Women,” in 1971, she credited Munro’s style but still rejected the novel for publication. 

“There’s no question that the lady can write but it’s also clear she is primarily a short story writer,” Jones wrote.

Senior lecturer Brian Doherty taught a entire course on Munro and said that the letters from Knopf made it obvious that the company enjoyed her writing but just didn’t think there was a market.

“[It’s] depressing when you consider so many writers change their approach to writing and their approach to literature in order to increase salability,” Doherty said. “You have to really respect the writers who labor in obscurity because they believe in what they’re doing even though they might not get notoriety or Nobel Prizes.”

McGraw-Hill published Munro’s novel in 1972 and with its success, published her book of short stories two years later, which was nearly five years after its release in Canada.

“Alice Munro is a good example of someone who stayed true to her vision of being a writer and ended up producing some material that is so widely respected,” Doherty said.

Ann Cvetkovich, English and women’s and gender studies professor, said the rejection letters prove the difficulties of being a female short story writer and especially the challenges she faced being a Canadian. Cvetkovich said she was interested in becoming a writer when she was 11 and bought Munro’s “Dance of the Happy Shades.” 

“It really demystifies the process of writing and shows you that, so often, good writers are not always recognized because they fall off the radar due to their gender, sexuality, race or in this case, their national background,” Cvetkovich said.