Doris Lessing Receives Nobel Prize

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Nobel literature laureate Doris Lessing, who greeted news of her victory with the words, "I couldn't care less," received her prize Wednesday night at a champagne reception in London.

The 88-year-old writer was still not entirely overwhelmed by the honor.

"There isn't anywhere to go from here, is there?" she said, before thinking of one more accolade: "I could receive a pat on the head from the pope."

Lessing, whose back problems prevented her from traveling to Stockholm for the official Nobel prize-giving ceremony Dec. 10., was given the gold Nobel prize by Swedish Ambassador Staffan Carlsson amid the Old Master paintings of the Wallace Collection art gallery in London.

Carlsson called her "forever young and wise, old and rebellious ... the least ingratiating of writers."

Born in Persia — now Iran — and raised in what is now Zimbabwe, Lessing drew on her experiences in colonial Africa for her debut novel, "The Grass Is Singing," published in 1950. Her most influential book is probably "The Golden Notebook," published in 1962 and considered a feminist classic.

The author of more than 50 novels, volumes of short stories, memoirs and plays, Lessing was announced as the 2007 Nobel Literature laureate in October. The Swedish Academy, which awards the $1.5 million prize, praised her "skepticism, fire and visionary power."

Lessing was both skeptical and fiery when told she had won by reporters waiting outside her London house.

"Oh Christ, I couldn't care less," she said. "This has been going on for 30 years. I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all. It's a royal flush."

Lessing has long been known for her fierce and often contrary opinions.

In October, she told a Spanish newspaper that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were "neither as terrible nor as extraordinary" as many people think.

"Sept. 11 was terrible, but if one goes back over the history of the IRA, what happened to the Americans wasn't that terrible," she told El Pais.

Her Nobel acceptance speech — delivered in Stockholm last month by her publisher, Nicholas Pearson — was titled "On Not Winning the Nobel Prize."

In it she implored society to remember the importance of stories and books, despite a host of threats — from poverty and poor government in Zimbabwe to the Internet and consumer culture in the West.

"We have a treasure-house — a treasure — of literature, going back to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans. It is all there, this wealth of literature, to be discovered again and again by whoever is lucky enough to come on it," she said. "Suppose it did not exist. How impoverished, how empty we would be."

Lessing's publisher, HarperCollins, said it was donating 10,000 books — including copies of three of Lessing's novels — to Zimbabwean schools in recognition of the author's achievement.

"We hope that the donation will be a fitting tribute to her unique talent and passion and that the books will inspire Zimbabwean schoolchildren for generations to come," said Victoria Barnsley, chief executive of HarperCollins UK.