* Nobel committee says Munro is "Canadian Chekhov"
* Munro hopes award brings recognition to short story format
* Second Canada-born author to win Nobel literature prize
By Sven Nordenstam and Cameron French
STOCKHOLM/TORONTO, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Canadian Alice Munrowon the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday for her tales ofthe struggles, loves and tragedies of women in small-town Canadathat made her what the award-giving committee called the "masterof the contemporary short story."
"Some critics consider her a Canadian Chekhov," the SwedishAcademy said in announcing the award on its website, comparingMunro to the 19th-century Russian short story writer.
The 82-year-old Munro, who revealed in 2009 that she hadundergone coronary bypass surgery and cancer treatment, said itwas "surprising and wonderful" to receive the award.
"I am dazed by all the attention and affection that has beencoming my way this morning," she said in a statement. "I hope itfosters further interest in all Canadian writers. I also hopethat this brings further recognition to the short story form."
Despite the honor and attention it would bring to her work,she told CBC News that the award would not change the decisionshe announced earlier this year to retire from writing.
SHORT, BUT RICH, STORIES
The short story, a style more popular in the 19th and early20th century, has long taken a back seat to the novel in populartastes.
Munro's merit, in the eyes of her admirers, was to introduceinto her stories a richness of plot and depth of detail usuallymore characteristic of novels.
The characters in her stories are often girls and women wholead seemingly unexceptional lives but struggle withtribulations ranging from sexual abuse and stifling marriages torepressed love and the ravages of aging.
"Suddenly you find yourself being fascinated by the life ofthis chambermaid, or this bean farmer, or this Vancouverhousewife," Douglas Gibson, her longtime editor and publisher,said in a CBC interview. "These are ordinary people, ordinarystories, but she has the magic."
The award triggered an outpouring of pride in Canada. Socialmedia website Twitter was flooded with congratulations.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement, "I am certain that Ms. Munro's tremendous body of work andthis premier accomplishment will serve to inspire Canadianwriters of all ranks to pursue literary excellence and theirpassion for the written word."
Reporters who gathered early on Thursday at the hotel inVictoria, British Columbia, where Munro was staying were askedto leave by hotel staff, who said she did not want to bedisturbed.
Born in 1931 in Wingham, a small town in the region ofsouthwestern Ontario that serves as the setting for many of herstories, Munro started writing in her teens and has publishedmore than a dozen short-story collections over the years.
Munro's works include "Lives of Girls and Women" in 1971,"Runaway" in 2004 and "Too Much Happiness" five years later.
Her story "The Bear Came over the Mountain, from her 2001collection "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship,Marriage," was adapted into the Oscar-nominated film "Away fromHer," directed by Sarah Polley.
Munro becomes the second Canadian-born writer to win theNobel for Literature, although she is the first winner to bethought of as distinctly Canadian. Saul Bellow, who won theaward in 1976, was born in Quebec but raised in Chicago and iswidely considered an American writer.
"Her texts often feature depictions of everyday but decisiveevents, epiphanies of a kind, that illuminate the surroundingstory and let existential questions appear in a flash oflightning," the Nobel Academy said in appraising Munro.
That sentiment was echoed by fellow Canadian writer MargaretAtwood, who described Munro in a 2008 tribute as being among themajor writers of fiction in our time.
"Munro has been among those writers subject to periodicrediscovery, at least outside Canada. It's as if she jumps outof a cake - Surprise! - and then has to jump out of it again,and then again," Atwood wrote.
The former Alice Laidlaw married James Munro in 1951 andmoved to Victoria, where the two ran a bookstore that stilloperates today. They had four daughters - one died just hoursafter being born - before divorcing in 1972. Afterwards, Munromoved back to Ontario.
Her second husband, geographer Gerald Fremlin, died thispast April, which her publisher Gibson said factored in to herdecision to quite writing this year. Munro also threatened toretire in 2006, but then changed her mind and published two morecollections.
"She lost her husband in the spring and she's quite frail.And when she said 'no more' this time I believe her. I didn'tbelieve it the first time, but I believe it now," he said.
The literature prize, which comes with an award of 8 millioncrowns ($1.25 million), is the fourth of this year's crop ofNobel prizes, which were established in the will of AlfredNobel, the Swede who invented dynamite. The prizes were awardedfor the first time in 1901.
Munro also won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009,and has won the Giller Prize - Canada's most high-profileliterary award - twice.
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