Munro was born Alice Ann Laidlaw in Wingham, Ontario. Her father, Robert Eric Laidlaw, was a fox and mink farmer, and her mother, Anne Clarke Laidlaw (née Chamney), was a schoolteacher. Munro began writing as a teenager, publishing her first story, "The Dimensions of a Shadow", in 1950 while studying English and journalism at the University of Western Ontario under a two-year scholarship. During this period she worked as a waitress, a tobacco picker, and a library clerk. In 1951, she left the university, where she had been majoring in English since 1949, to marry fellow student James Munro. They moved to Dundarave, West Vancouver, for James's job in a department store. In 1963, the couple moved to Victoria, where they opened Munro's Books, which still operates.
Munro's highly acclaimed first collection of stories, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), won the Governor General's Award, then Canada's highest literary prize. That success was followed by Lives of Girls and Women (1971), a collection of interlinked stories. In 1978, Munro's collection of interlinked stories Who Do You Think You Are? was published (titled The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose in the United States). This book earned Munro a second Governor General's Literary Award. From 1979 to 1982, she toured Australia, China and Scandinavia for public appearances and readings. In 1980 Munro held the position of writer in residence at both the University of British Columbia and the University of Queensland. In 2006, Munro's story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" was adapted for the screen and directed by Sarah Polley as Away from Her, starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent.
Since the 1980s, Munro has published a short-story collection at least once every four years, most recently in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2012. First versions of Munro's stories have appeared in journals such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Grand Street, Harper's Magazine, Mademoiselle, and The Paris Review. Her collections have been translated into thirteen languages. On 10 October 2013, Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, cited as a "master of the contemporary short story". She is the first Canadian and the 13th woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Munro is noted for her longtime association with editor and publisher Douglas Gibson. When Gibson left Macmillan of Canada in 1986 to launch his own Douglas Gibson Books imprint at McClelland and Stewart, Munro returned the advance that Macmillan had already paid her for The Progress of Love so that she could follow Gibson to the new company. Munro and Gibson have retained their professional association ever since; when Gibson published his own memoirs in 2011, Munro wrote the introduction, and to this day Gibson often makes public appearances on Munro's behalf when her health prevents her from appearing personally.
Almost twenty of Munro's works have been made available for free on the web. However, in most cases these are the first versions only. From the period before 2003, 16 stories have been included in Munro's own compilations more than twice, with two of her works scoring even four republications: "Carried Away" and "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage".