11 10 2007 - Doris Was born in IRAN , she wins Nobel Prize
|Doris Lessing Wins Nobel Prize in Literature
Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press
Doris Lessing, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for literature, outside her home in London today.
By MOTOKO RICH and SARAH LYALL
Published: October 11, 2007
Doris Lessing, the Persian-born, Rhodesian-raised and London-residing novelist whose deeply autobiographical writing has swept across continents and reflects her engagement with the social and political issues of her time, today won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Skip to next paragraph
Martin Cleaver/Associated Press
Doris Lessing at her home in London in 2006.
Jonathan Player for The New York Times Doris Lessing at her home in London in 2002.
Announcing the award in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy described her as “that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny.” The award comes with an honorarium of 10 million Swedish crown, about $1.6 million.
Ms. Lessing, who turns 88 later this month, never finished high school and largely educated herself through her voracious reading. She was born in 1919 to British parents in what is now Iran, raised in colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and currently resides in London. She has written dozens of books of fiction, as well as plays, non-fiction and two volumes of her autobiography. She is the 11th woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature.
Ms. Lessing learned of the news from a group of reporters camped on her doorstep as she returned from visiting her son in the hospital. “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.”
With the sound of a phone ringing persistently from inside her 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 previous times she has been on the short list for the Nobel. “Either they were going to give it to me sometime before I popped off or not at all.”
Stout, sharp and a bit hard of hearing, Ms. Lessing excused herself after a few moments 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.”
Although Ms. Lessing is passionate about social and political issues, she is unlikely to be as controversial as the previous two winners, Orhan Pamuk of Turkey and Harold Pinter of Britain, whose views on current political situations led commentators to suspect that the Swedish Academy was choosing its winners in part for nonliterary reasons.
Ms. Lessing’s strongest legacy may be that she inspired a generation of feminists with her breakthrough novel, “The Golden Notebook.” In its citation, the Swedish Academy said: “The burgeoning feminist movement saw it as a pioneering work and it belongs to the handful of books that informed the 20th century view of the male-female relationship.”
Ms. Lessing wrote candidly about the inner lives of women and rejected the notion that they should abandon their own lives to marriage and children. “The Golden Notebook,” published in 1962, tracked the story of Anna Wulf, a woman who wanted to live freely and was in some ways Ms. Lessing’s alter-ego.
Because she frankly depicted female anger and aggression, she was attacked as “unfeminine.” In response, Ms. Lessing wrote: “Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing came as a great surprise.”
Although she has been held up as an early feminist icon, Ms. Lessing later denied that she herself was a feminist, earning the ire of some British critics and academics.
Clare Hanson, professor of 20th century literature at the University of Southampton in Britain and a keynote speaker at the second international Doris Lessing Conference this past July, said: “She’s been ahead of her time, prescient and thoughtful, immensely wide-ranging.”
Ms. Lessing debuted with the novel “The Grass is Singing” in 1950, chronicling the relationship between a white farmer’s wife and her black servant. In her earliest work, Ms. Lessing drew upon her childhood experiences in colonial Rhodesia to write about the clash of white and African cultures and racial injustice.
Because of her outspoken views, the governments of both Southern Rhodesia and South Africa declared her a “prohibited alien” in 1956.
Ms. Lessing was born Doris May Tayler in 1919 in what was then known as Persia (now Iran). Her father was a bank clerk and her mother was trained as a nurse. Lured by the promise of farming riches, the family moved to Rhodesia, where Ms. Lessing had what she has described as a “painful” childhood.
She left home when she was 15. In 1937 she moved to Salisbury (now Harare) in Southern Rhodesia, where she took jobs as a telephone operator and nursemaid. At 19, she married and had two children. A few years later, she felt trapped, and abandoned her family. She later married Gottfried Lessing, a central member of the Left Book Club, a left wing organization, and they had a son together.
Ms. Lessing, who briefly joined the Communist Party, later repudiated Marxist theory and was criticized for doing so by some British academics.
She divorced Mr. Lessing and she and her young son moved to London, where she began her literary career in earnest. When “The Golden Notebook” was first published in the United States, Ms. Lessing was still unknown. Robert Gottlieb, then her editor at Simon & Schuster and later at Knopf, said that it garnered “extremely interesting reviews” but sold only 6,000 copies. “But they were the right 6,000 copies,” Mr. Gottlieb said by telephone from his home in New York. “The people who read it were galvanized by it and it made her a famous writer in America.”
Speaking from Frankfurt during the annual international book fair, Jane Friedman, president and chief executive of HarperCollins, which has published Ms. Lessing in the U.S. and the United Kingdom for the last 20 years, said that “for women and for literature, Doris Lessing is a mother to us all.”
Ms. Lessing’s other novels include “The Good Terrorist,” “Martha Quest,” and “Love Again.” Her latest novel is “The Cleft,” published by HarperCollins in July.
In a review of “Under My Skin,” the first volume of Ms. Lessing’s autobiography, Janet Burroway, writing in The New York Times Book Review, said: “Mrs. Lessing is a writer for whom the idea that ‘the personal is the political’ is neither sterile nor strident; for her, it is an integrated vision.”
On her doorstep, Ms. Lessing said she was still writing, “but with difficulty because I have so little time,” referring to the regular visits she is making to the hospital to visit her son.
Motoko Rich reported from Frankfurt and Sarah Lyall from London.