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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Nobel Prizes for chemical weapon disposal and short stories

Published: October 25, 2013
Section: News

The Nobel Prize winners were announced last week: the Peace Prize will go to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Prize in Literature is awarded to Alice Munro. The ceremony will take place on Dec. 10 in Stockholm.

The OPCW is being given prestigious recognition for its work toward eliminating chemical weapons, especially as the need for such intervention has risen due to conflict in Syria. The intergovernmental organization based in The Hague promotes and verifies adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention which was established shortly before the OPCW in 1997. The Convention prohibits the use of chemical weapons and calls for their destruction. The organization acts as a conference that allows representatives from around the world to voice their opinions, as well as using verification and inspection divisions to manage the destruction of chemical weapons among the 190 member states.

The Nobel Committee stated that the award was given to the OPCW because they “have defined the use of chemical weapons as taboo under international law,” taking a major step in the monumental task of eliminating an entire class of weaponry.

In its statement, the committee criticized Russia and the United States for not meeting the April 2012 deadline for the destruction of their chemical weapons. The organization’s complete impact has yet to be seen as they continue to work on their mission in Syria.

A civil war rages in Syria, resulting in over 100,000 deaths and millions more forced from their homes. The United Nations and OPCW hope for Syria’s arsenal to be taken care of by mid-2014. Some Syrians have reacted negatively toward the award being given to the OPCW. Many see chemical weapons as not being the primary weapon in the war and believe that the honor overshadows the conflict’s true form and issues.

This year’s Peace Prize received 259 nominations, more than any year before. The OPCW is the 22nd organization to win the prize. Peace Prize laureates include U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Carter and Obama, as well as Henry Kissinger, Elie Wiesel, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and Al Gore.

The winner of the Prize in Literature, Alice Munro, is an 82-year-old Canadian short story writer. The committee recognized her for being a “master of modern short story.” Munro won the O. Henry Award and Canada’s Governor General Award for Fiction three times, despite not publishing her first set of short stories until she was 37.

She has since published 13 additional collections that highlight the small town settings and life of those in Huron County, Ontario. Her work has been compared to that of Anton Chekhov, William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. She is the first laureate chosen since 1978 who is primarily known for short stories, although her writings are known for having the emotional depth of full-length novels. Her literary style is characteristic of the Southern Ontario Gothic tradition which was first noted in 1972, four years after Munro’s inaugural book was published.

Alice Munro, née Laidlaw, was born in Wingham, Ontario before studying English and journalism at the University of Western Ontario, but left without a degree to get married. She later received an honorary doctorate from the school in 1976 and worked as writer in residence at the University of British Columbia and University of Queensland. She won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009. Munro has been honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Royal Society of Canada, the U.S. National Arts Club and the Order of Arts and Letter. Her works have appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and The Paris Review.

She currently lives a quiet lifestyle in Clinton, Ontario. The Swedish Academy, the organization which chooses the winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was not initially able to inform Munro of her win. She finally heard the news after being woken up by her daughter at 4 a.m. in British Columbia.

She is the first Canadian to win the award and the first North American to win since 1993. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement saying that “Canadians are enormously proud of this remarkable accomplishment, which is the culmination of a lifestyle of brilliant writing.”

Munro is equally proud of her heritage, saying, “When I began writing, there was a very small community of Canadian writers and little attention was paid by the world. Now Canadian writers are read, admired and respected around the globe.” She went on to say that she hopes being chosen for the award “fosters further interest in all Canadian writers.”

After a lifetime of writing, Munro had decided to take it easy in the future, but the prize may change her mind.