finally, doris lessing wins nobel prize in literature

I was very pleased to see that Doris Lessing was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel is the highest global literary honour, and Lessing's is richly deserved.

Lessing had been short-listed for the Nobel for years, and her many admirers were wondering if the Nobel committee would come to its collective senses while the 88-year-old writer is still on this earth. The descriptions of Lessing's reaction to the news were amusing.

From the New York Times:
Ms. Lessing learned of the news from a group of reporters camped on her doorstep as she returned from a visit to the hospital with her son. "I was a bit surprised because I had forgotten about it actually," she said. "My name has been on the short list for such a long time."

As the persistent sound of her phone ringing came from inside the house, Ms. Lessing said that on second thought, she was not as surprised "because this has been going on for something like 40 years," referring to the number of times she has been mentioned as a likely honoree. "Either they were going to give it to me sometime before I popped off or not at all."

After a few moments, Ms. Lessing, who is stout, sharp and a bit hard of hearing, excused herself to go inside. "Now I'm going to go in to answer my telephone," she said. "I swear I'm going upstairs to find some suitable sentences, which I will be using from now on."

And from the Globe and Mail:
Doris Lessing pulled up in a black cab where a media horde was waiting Thursday in front of her leafy north London home. Reporters opened the door and told her she had won the Nobel Prize for literature, to which she responded: "Oh Christ ... I couldn't care less."

Ms. Lessing later said she thought the cameras were there to film a television program. Vegetables peeked out from blue plastic bags she carried out of the cab.

"This has been going on for 30 years," she said, as reporters helped her with the bags.

"I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all, the whole lot, okay?" Ms. Lessing said, making her way through the crowd. "It's a royal flush."

"I'm sure you'd like some uplifting remarks," she added with a smile.

Ms. Lessing, who turns 88 this month, is the oldest winner of the literature prize. Although she is widely celebrated for "The Golden Notebook" and other works, she has received little attention in recent years and has been criticized as strident and eccentric.

Asked repeatedly if she was excited about the award, she held court from her doorstep and noted she had been in the running for the Nobel for decades.

"I can't say I'm overwhelmed with surprise," Ms. Lessing said. "I'm 88 years old and they can't give the Nobel to someone who's dead, so I think they were probably thinking they'd probably better give it to me now before I've popped off."

Surrounded by members of the international media in her flower-packed garden, Ms. Lessing was dismissive of the Nobel — calling the award process graceless and saying the prize "doesn't mean anything artistically."

She acknowledged the $1.5-million cash award was a lot of money, but still seemed less than thrilled.

"I'm already thinking about all the people who are going to send me begging letters — I can see them lining up now," she said. The phone in her house, audible from the street, rang continuously.

Ms. Lessing brightened when a reporter asked whether the Nobel would generate interest in her work.

"I'm very pleased if I get some new readers," she said. "Yes, that's very nice, I hadn't thought of that."

I've seen Lessing read a few times. She has great respect for her readers, but little for the literary establishment. In an informal q-and-a in a New York City Barnes & Noble, she told a story about writing and publishing that every writer should hear and remember.

Lessing delivered one of her manuscripts to her editor - I don't remember if it was her fourth or fifth novel - to gushing praise. She also simultaneously submitted the same manuscript to the same editor - as an unsolicited manuscript, under an unknown pseudonym. The manuscript was rejected with the usual brief cover letter.

It's often said Lessing is best remembered for The Golden Notebook, the groundbreaking feminist work first published in 1962. Golden Notebook is an important book, but when I first read it in 1982, it already felt dated. Now it's more of a historical document, in my opinion, than a living novel. But it's an important historical document.

Lessing has been both prolific and multifaceted, to a remarkable degree. Like any important and prolific artist, all of Lessing's work will not appeal to every reader. That's not a criticism; it's a compliment.

One of the most memorable - and most heartbreaking - books I have ever read is Lessing's The Fifth Child. The sequel Ben, In The World, was also haunting and heartbreaking. Certain scenes in those two books are indelibly burned into my consciousness; my eyes well up just thinking of them.

A good place to learn more about Lessing is this excellent website, created and maintained by a knowledgeable reader: Doris Lessing, A Retrospective.

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