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A discerning eye for talent

October 24, 2013

carringtonRetired NIU English instructor Ildikó Carrington wasn’t a bit surprised when Alice Munro was named recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature earlier this month.

“I am delighted that she won it,” Carrington says.

Back in 1989, Carrington wrote the first American book-length critical study of the Canadian writer’s works. Titled “Controlling the Uncontrollable: The Fiction of Alice Munro” and published by Northern Illinois University Press, the book elucidated Munro’s brilliant talent as a master short story writer and foreshadowed the author’s rise to the pinnacle of literary success.

“The very last sentence of my book is: ‘She walks on water,’ “ Carrington says. “That sounds like blasphemy, but it alludes to the title of one of Munro’s stories, ‘Walking on Water.’ I also meant it to suggest that she is miraculous in her talent.”

Carrington had written a number of literary studies on other authors before being asked by a Canadian publisher to write a book on Munro’s short stories. Two of the manuscript’s reviewers loved the book, but the third didn’t want an American writing about a Canadian author, and the manuscript was rejected. Ironically, Carrington is a naturalized citizen of the United States – she was born in Canada.

“So I offered the book to NIU Press, and they accepted,” Carrington recalls.

Book cover of “Controlling the Uncontrollable”Carrington, who lives in DeKalb, served as an instructor for 44 years in the NIU Department of English before retiring two years ago. From 1967 to 1990, her colleagues included her late husband, George Carrington, an NIU professor of American literature.

In addition to her book, Ildikó Carrington published 10 scholarly articles on Munro’s later works in Canadian, American and French journals. Munro wrote hundreds of short stories. Among Carrington’s personal favorites:  “The Love of a Good Woman,” “A Wilderness Station” and “Save the Reaper.”

Although Carrington never met Munro in person, she feels a close kinship to the author.

“In some ways our lives were a bit parallel,” Carrington says. “Alice Munro grew up very poor, and so did I. Her father was a farmer, mine a minister. Both of us were born in Ontario during the Depression and went to college on scholarships.”

But it was the truthfulness, sparkling writing and profound insights into human nature that most attracted Carrington to the works of the newly named Nobel Laureate.

“Alice Munro is so honest about what people are like that it’s almost painful to read what she writes,” Carrington says. “I admired this and her brilliant fulfillment of her definition of a short story: ‘I want to give you intense, but not connected, moments of experience.’ ”