TORONTO, Ontario — Like many writers and guests currently attending the 33rd International Festival of Authors (IFOA) at the Harbourfront Center, I was disheartened that Alice Munro failed to appear at this year’s festival.
Munro’s long-time friend and editor, Douglas Gibson, explained that: “Alice is 81 years old now, and her health is frail, making it impossible for her to attend this IFOA event, although she would very much like to be able to do so.”
Festival organizers were disappointed knowing how successful, enriching and entertaining her appearances at the IFOA have been in the past. Organizers worked to the eleventh hour to try and make the event possible however it was determined that this course of action was best.
Winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work, Alice Munro Haagensen was born in 1900 at Waquoit Bay on Cape Cod, where her family had a summer place, according to The Palisades Newsletter. Her father, a medieval historian, taught at the University of Pennsylvania, then at the University of Wisconsin in Madison (she remembered the lakes, the winter sports, walls of snow), and finally at Princeton as the head of the history department, always summering on the Cape.
The second youngest of five children in an “articulate family” (her words), Alice, a three-time winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Award for fiction, and a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize, attended Wellesley College and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1921. She knew that she wanted to be a writer. After a year at the Sorbonne, she worked in New York as a reporter on the Globe (making $5 a day) and then for awhile at Scribner’s Press.
She met her husband, Cushman Haagensen (whose family had come to North Dakota from Norway in the 1850s) on a transatlantic ship – he was the ship’s doctor, newly qualified, and she was returning from Europe. She told how he saw her coming aboard and had her seated at his table. By the end of the voyage, they were engaged.
Throughout their sixty-year marriage, she was his constant helpmate. She ran the house, entertained colleagues and students and visiting dignitaries, helped with the editing of his book, Diseases of the Breast (he was a foremost expert on breast cancer), taught herself Greek when he opened a clinic in Athens and needed an interpreter.
Historic Houses of Palisades, published by the Historical Committee in 2001, is largely based on Alice’s encyclopedic knowledge of the village and its inhabitants.
In the 1980s she helped with applications that resulted in two Palisades districts and several individual houses being placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
She was consulted on Sneden family history by the Virginia Historical Society and received the Rockland County Historical Society’s Zehner award for her work. She continued to collect material on the early twentieth century and her own period in Palisades, planning for a continuation of her book.
“We hope our audience joins us in wishing the best for Ms. Munro,” organizers announced five days before the start of the festival.
This year’s International Festival of Authors includes more than 200 participants and over 70 events. Each October, the IFOA presents a wide range of readings, round table discussions, onstage interviews, book signings and a number of special events featuring the most exciting authors in contemporary literature. Administered by Authors at Harbourfront Centre, this year’s 33rd annual IFOA takes place from October 18 to 28, 2012.