Alice Munro’s Archives
Paper 216 pp.
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What can we learn about authorship through a reading of a writer’s archive?
Collections of authors’ manuscripts and correspondence have traditionally been used in ways that further illuminate the published text. JoAnn McCaig sets out to show how archival materials can also provide fascinating insights into the business of culture, reveal the individuals, institutions, and ideologies that shape the author and her work, and describe the negotiations that occur between an author and the cultural marketplace. Using a feminist cultural studies approach, JoAnn McCaig “reads in” to the archives of acclaimed Canadian short story writer Alice Munro in order to explore precisely how the terms “Canadian,” “woman,” “short story,” and “writer” are constructed in her writing career. Munro’s correspondence with mentor Robert Weaver, agent Virginia Barber, publishers Doug Gibson and Ann Close, and writer John Metcalf tell a fascinating story of how one very determined and gifted writer made her way through the pitfalls of the culture business to achieve the enviable authority she now claims.
McCaig’s discussion of her own difficulties with obtaining copyright permission for the book raises important questions about freedom of scholarly inquiry and about the unforeseen difficulties and limitations of archival research. Despite these difficulties, McCaig’s reading of the Munro archives succeeds in examining the business of culture, the construction of the aesthetic, and the impact of gender, genre, nationality, and class on authorship. While on one level telling the story of one author’s career — the progress of Alice Munro, so to speak — the book also illustrates how cultural studies analysis suggests ways of opening up the rich but underutilized literary resource of authorial archives to all researchers.
JoAnn McCaig has taught English at the University of Calgary for several years and is the recipient of a 2000/2002 SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship for further research on the literary archives of Canadian authors.
“McCaig’s...main point is that authorship and authority are always linked to institutions....She...finds evidence in the correspondence for Munro’s dependence on...her mentor Robert Weaver of the CBC...and then on the efforts of...her New York literary agent Virginia Barber...to introduce her to the American market. This...cultural studies analysis...provides a useful corrective to some of the myths around authorship.”
— Coral Ann Howells, British Journal of Canadian Studies
“McCaig’s reading in, and into, the Munro Papers is a lively and welcome cultural studies approach to Munro’s prospects and spectacular progress as a writer starting out in the 1950s. To a lesser degree, it is also welcome as a spirited account of the scholarly joys and frustrations of publishing archival research.”
— Klaus P. Stich, English Studies in Canada
“In revealing the enormous potential of literary achives used in conjunction with literary and scholarly texts, McCaig has produced a work that is bound to become a model for studies of other authors. A fascinating book, written in a lively, engaging style, always stimulating and often quite funny.”
— J.B. Beston, CHOICE