Short stories are not easy to write. The heartbeat of literary fiction—the character—takes time and space. The reader needs time to get to know fictitious characters because in many ways the reader is growing a friendship with them. Fifty thousand words is small for most. Now go on a 90% diet (or more) and that’s the limits of a literary short story, and commercial ones are even worse. How is the reader supposed to get emotionally involved in ten minutes or less?
And yet Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her short stories, most of which feature local flavor from her Canadian background. A high honor for a difficult—and often underappreciated—genre. Munro herself used a unique style for many of her short stories, beginning in odd places or reversing the flow of time, and according to the NPR, regarded her prize as a victory for the genre and Canadian writers, not just her own achievement. Even so, she still intends to retire, citing her age and a desire to not be left alone “like a writer needs.” As she announced her retirement before she won the prize, it is possible the committee wanted to honor her with it while her work was in recent memory. Munro herself had stopped paying attention to literary awards. According to the New York Times, the Swedish Academy could not inform her she had won before the public announcement, and her daughter had to tell her she had won.