Lessing receives Nobel for literature
British author praised for her 'skepticism, fire'
STOCKHOLM - Doris Lessing, author of dozens of works from short stories to science fiction, including the classic "The Golden Notebook," was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature yesterday. The judges praised her "skepticism, fire and visionary power."
The Swedish academy's announcement was stunning even by the standards of Nobel judges, who have been known for such surprises as Austria's Elfriede Jelinek and Italy's Dario Fo.
Lessing, less than two weeks short of her 88th birthday, is the oldest choice ever for a prize that usually goes to authors in their 50s and 60s. 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.
Swedish Academy Permanent Secretary Horace Engdahl was not able to reach Lessing before announcing the prize in Stockholm, but reporters waiting outside her brick rowhouse in North London told her she had won as she arrived in a black taxicab, two hours later.
"I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all," said Lessing, whose previous honors include the James Tait Black Memorial Book Prize and the W.H. Smith Literary Award. "It's a royal flush."
Later, she told reporters: "I thought you were shooting some kind of television series."
Novelist Shirley Hazzard, winner of the National Book Award in 2003 for "The Great Fire," said yesterday's announcement was a surprise, but a "nice" one. "I admire her writing very much," Hazzard told The Associated Press. "Her intention is not to amuse. She's a serious writer who deals with things she feels very, very strongly about."
However, American literary critic Harold Bloom called the academy's decision "pure political correctness."
"Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable . . . fourth-rate science fiction," Bloom told the AP.
A largely self-taught author who ended formal schooling in her teens, Lessing has drawn heavily from her time living in Africa, exploring the divide between whites and blacks, most notably in the 1950s' "The Grass Is Singing," which examined the relationship between a white farmer's wife and her black servant.
The academy called it "both a tragedy based in love-hatred and study of unbridgeable racial conflicts."
A prolific author even in her 80s, Lessing was born to British parents who were living in what is now Bakhtaran, Iran. Her many works include short stories, essays, and such novels as "The Good Terrorist" and "Martha Quest," the latter part of her semi-autobiographical "Children Of Violence" series.
But to millions she is known for "The Golden Notebook," published in 1962 and still a feminist classic, although Lessing does not consider the book a political statement.
"The burgeoning feminist movement saw it as a pioneering work and it belongs to the handful of books that inform the 20th century view of the male-female relationship," the academy said in its citation announcing the prize.
Lessing was also cited for her "vision of global catastrophe forcing mankind to return to a more primitive life, noting such recent works as "Mara and Dann" and its sequel, "The Story of General Dann and Mara's Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog," published in 2005.
Lessing is the second British writer to win the prize since 2005, when Harold Pinter received the award. Last year, the prize went to Turkey's Orhan Pamuk.