Giller Prize organizers have reluctantly scratched a much-anticipated contest between Canada's two reigning literary heavyweights after one of the expected contenders, short story writer Alice Munro, withdrew her latest collection, Too Much Happiness (out this week), from consideration for the 2009 award.
The 78-year-old writer's decision has disappointed literary punters hoping for a close contest for this year's prize between Munro and veteran novelist Margaret Atwood, author of The Year of the Flood (out in September), which is sure to be nominated.
"Her reason is that she has won twice and would like to leave the field to younger writers," Munro's publisher, Douglas Gibson, confirmed this week. "In my role as greedy publisher I pointed out that the Giller Prize produces so much publicity, that even to be nominated for it is tremendous publicity," he said. "But her mind is made up on this. Alice preferred to withdraw from the competition."
Giller Prize administrator Elana Rabinovitch echoed the disappointment. "I appreciate the reason she's doing it, but I also think it's a bit of a shame," she said. "Ultimately the prize is for the best work of fiction in Canada, period, and this takes a likely contender out of the mix."
Munro has not only won the Giller twice before - for The Love of a Good Woman in 1998 and Runaway in 2004 - but this year she became the third writer to win the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, awarded every two years since 2005 to a living author for a body of work "that has contributed to an achievement in fiction on the world stage."
In confirming rumours that she had withdrawn from competition for this year's prize, Gibson cast some doubt on the chance of Munro keeping other dates this fall. The Vancouver International Writers Festival is staging a special tribute to Munro, which she is expected to attend on Oct. 18. Three days later she is scheduled to participate in a panel with nonagenarian British author Diana Athill on the opening night of the International Festival of Authors in Toronto.
"We're hoping that all will go well," Gibson said. "Alice is 78 years old and doesn't travel especially gladly."
Munro has previously announced her imminent retirement, only to keep on writing - and continuing to win awards.