Lessing unmoved by Nobel
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With two major literary prizes announced and the finalists lined up for America's top book honors, let's take a look at 2007's beauty contests.
Nobel to Doris Lessing
When the 88-year-old Lessing was ambushed by the English press at her London home after the announcement Oct. 11, she fussed, "Oh, Christ, I couldn't care less," adding, "I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so...it's a royal flush." But, she wasn't finished:
"They can't give a Nobel to someone who's dead. I think they were probably thinking they had better give it to me now before I popped off."
She forgot to include, "Oh, by the way, thanks for the $1.5 million."
The author of more than 80 books -- her first published title was the novel, "The Grass Is Singing," in 1950 -- Lessing has shifted from tough, realistic and contemporary fiction to sci-fi.
Her latest, "The Cleft," imagined a female society rocked by the birth of a male, but she usually downplayed her label as a "feminist," despite the powerful themes of 1962's "The Golden Notebook."
Equally as important as "The Golden Notebook," I think, to Lessing's contribution is the "Martha Quest" series, a quintet of novels following the growth of a woman character.
Lessing is always good copy. Before she made her only visit to Pittsburgh in 1994, she spoke to me over the phone from London about her autobiographical work, "Under My Skin."
She said she wrote memoirs to trump her would-be biographers.
"I understand there are four biographies being written about me and the things I have read about several of them I didn't think were accurate," she said "To me, a biography is something that should follow after someone has died."
Pittsburgh was one of only four cities in her American tour that year, but I reported that the turnout for her Oct. 26 appearance in the then Three Rivers Lecture Series was curiously small.
Then a spry 75, Lessing mostly read from her new book, the first of two memoirs. With the second, "Walking in the Shade" (1997), the writer produced a personal history of the British Empire's final days.
Man Booker winner
Irish novelist Anne Enright pocketed the $101,000 prize for the best novel written within the British Commonwealth.
"The Gathering" has been termed a "bleak family" saga about a suicide that was published in the United States last month as a paperback original from Grove's Black Cat imprint.
In a note from Carlow University's writing program, I learned that Enright, 45, has been a mentor to the school's master's degree students in writing. She works with them at St. Patrick-Carlow College in -- where else? -- Carlow, Ireland.
She's the author of three earlier novels and lives in Dublin.
National Book Award finalists
Nominations for America's major literary prizes brought some surprises with choices of several debut writers and omissions of veterans.
Fiction: "Tree of Smoke" by Denis Johnson; "Then We Came to the End" (debut) by Joshua Ferris; "Fieldwork" by Mischa Berlinski (debut); "Varieties of Disturbance" by Lydia Davis; and "Like You'd Understand Anyway" by Jim Shepard.
The latter two are short-story collections.
Nonfiction: "Legacy of Ashes" by Tim Weiner; "Ralph Ellison" by Arnold Rampersad; "God Is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens; "Brother, I'm Dying" by Edwidge Danticat; and "Unruly America" by Woody Holton.
More familiar names in this category, except Holton, a history professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
Poetry: "Magnetic North" by Linda Gregerson; "Time and Materials" by Robert Hass; "The House on Boulevard Street" by David Kirby; "Old Heart" by Stanley Plumly; and "Messenger" by Ellen Bryant Voigt.
Kirby's the "new guy" in this list of old standards. Voigt was a nominee in 2002 and Hass is a former poet laureate.
Children's literature: "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick; "Story of a Girl" by Sara Zarr; "Touching Snow" by M. Sindy Felin; "Skin Hunger" by Kathleen Duey; and "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie.
First Published October 21, 2007 12:00 am