Yesterday Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Munro is one of Canada’s great writers and the first Canadian to receive the prize. She started her writing career later in life, choosing the challenging short story as her genre. She had dropped out of journalism school to marry, then had children and a busy household to manage. Her interest in writing was revived when she and her husband opened a bookstore in Victoria in the early 1960s (those of us on the west coast will know Munro’s Books well). I pulled one of her collections off my shelf yesterday: Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage. This book was made into a film that just premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September. Several of her books have been made into films, and she has won many awards including the Man Booker and the Giller, but no doubt this one is the cream of the crop. Munro now 82 claims she is no longer writing.
Mulala Yousafzai started her career as an education activist at a very young age in the town of Mingora in the Swat District of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. When the Taliban declared that women would no longer be permitted to go to school, Mulala spoke out, believing education was a right for all. She and her friends continued to go to school and study in secret. She started a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC, a documentary was made about her life, then she began accepting interviews with international media. One day she was shot in the head while travelling in a van on the way home from school. She was 14 at the time. Miraculously, Mulala survived, with some paralysis in her face and deafness in one ear. Her friends were also wounded, but recovered and are now finishing high school on scholarships in England. Mulala’s fame has only increased since the shooting. In her words, the event made “millions of Mulalas speak.” She has just written her first book, I am Mulala and on July 12, 2013, she spoke at the UN calling for worldwide access to education. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year, but it was given to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the group that is now overseeing the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria. I think Mulala would have been the people’s choice.
Mulala is 16 now, her life still a short story, much like Munro’s brief but potent works of art. I wonder what she will have accomplished by the time she’s 82. I will certainly be following her story.