On not winning the Nobel Prize
I had read several reports of Doris Lessing‘s acceptance speech for the Nobel prize in Literature, but only found the full text by accident. Strange how we fall into these traps. I know the media will rarely give me the whole story, and what I read will be a garbled report missing the essence of the event. But still I get conned, thinking I know what happened, when in reality I only know what I know.
In this case I mistakenly believed her acceptance speech was an extended metaphor for the hunger for literature in Africa. Clever in a way because it utilized the word hunger for a region where food shortages often lead to starvation.
And her speech certainly did contain these elements; she speaks movingly and engagingly about Africa, which is, of course, close to her heart.
But the reports I read did not mention her remarks on writing and writers and on the current state of the publishing industry.
Writers are often asked, How do you write? With a processor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand? But the essential question is, “Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write?” Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas – inspiration.
And on publishing:
We are in London, one of the big cities. There is a new writer. We, cynically enquire, How are her boobs? Is she good-looking? If this is a man, Charismatic? Handsome? We joke but it is not a joke.
This new find is acclaimed, possibly given a lot of money. The buzzing of paparazzi begins in their poor ears. They are feted, lauded, whisked about the world. Us old ones, who have seen it all, are sorry for this neophyte, who has no idea of what is really happening.
He, she is flattered, pleased.
But ask in a year’s time what he or she is thinking: I’ve heard them: “This is the worst thing that could have happened to me.
These are extracts from her speech. The whole text is available on the Nobel Site in English, Swedish, French and German.