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Today, Doris Lessing became just the 11th woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Best known for her 1962 novel "The Golden Notebook," Lessing's work spans more than half a century. And just a couple of weeks short of her 88th birthday, she's also the oldest writer to receive the literature award.

Here's NPR's Lynn Neary.

LYNN NEARY: Doris Lessing says she was not that surprised to receive the award, since her name had been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Nobel many times before. But this year, she was not considered a frontrunner. So when Lessing saw a big crowd in front of her house today, she wasn't quite sure what was going on.

DORIS LESSING: I was in a taxi, I stood out the taxi, and on a tail end were some reporters. And I wasn't expecting it. I thought that this was one of the episodes of "Morse" or something like that. So - but it turned out, it was me they were photographing.

NEARY: Lessing was born in Persia, but her father moved his family to Rhodesia when she was a young child. Growing up in that racist and provincial society, Lessing chaffed at the narrow life she was expected to lead. Her first novel, "The Grass is Singing" published in 1950, examined the racial divide that permeated Rhodesia and a story about a tragic love affair between a white Rhodesian woman and a black servant.

Alexandra Fuller, who has also written about life in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, says Lessing had a huge influence on all Zimbabwean writers.

ALEXANDRA FULLER: She was really the godmother, because she was a truth sayer. I can't imagine the courage it would have taken to step out of that very small bubble, that isolated bubble of white writers, and to fly in the face of parochialism and what is expected of you in Rhodesia at that time.

NEARY: Lessing's experiences in Rhodesia led her to join the Communist Party, but she later rejected that decision. And though her novel "The Golden Notebook" is often regarded as a kind of feminist manifesto, she fiercely rejects that characterization. In an interview with Terry Gross on WHYY's FRESH AIR, Lessing said she never sets out to write a political novel.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRESH AIR INTERVIEW)

LESSING: I do not think writers or anybody would sit down and think they must write about some cause, or theme, or something. If they write about their own experiences, something true is going to emerge.

NEARY: But over the years and her novels, essays and works of science fiction, Lessing has explored many of the burning issues of the era - racism, communism, feminism, environmentalism, terrorism.

Jonathan Burnham of HarperCollins, Lessing's American publisher, believes that may be why she was awarded the Nobel.

JONATHAN BURNHAM: One of the most important aspects of her work is that she showed that you could explore ideas - political ideas, cultural ideas, philosophical ideas - through fiction, in a very persuasive way and that you could integrate fiction with that kind of profound thinking.

NEARY: At the age of 87, Lessing is still writing, working on a novel about her parents and the way their lives were so profoundly damaged by World War I.

LESSING: I've only just sent it to my agent. So, he says the second part is almost unbearable. Well, I hope so, because it's my intention to put people off war.

NEARY: Writer Doris Lessing today won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

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