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Doris Lessing (October 22, 1919 – November 17, 2013) was a British novelist, playwright, poet, short story writer, and biographer. She was born in what was then Persia (present-day Iran) to British parents, raised in Rhodesia (what is now Zimbabwe), and spent much of her life in London. Lessing left school age 14, and received no further formal education, though she self educated from then on.
In her teens, Lessing held a number of jobs to piece together a living. She worked at various times as a telephone operator, office worker, and journalist. When at age 15 she got one of her first jobs as a nursemaid, her employer gave her books on politics and sociology to read. Around the same time she started writing stories, and successfully sold two to magazines in South Africa.
A passionate social observer
Lessing wrote about women’s issues, communism, motherhood, mental health, and eroticism. She even wrote science fiction laced with social commentary.
Early marriage and motherhood
Married at age 19, she soon had a son and daughter. But she felt trapped, and left the marriage after four years. She had a third child with her second husband; that marriage ended as well. In 1949, she moved to London with her youngest child, leaving her older two children in South Africa with their father. She felt she had no choice.
You might also enjoy: Brilliant Quotes by Doris Lessing
Writing set her free
With the publication of her first novel, The Grass is Singing (1950) she finally considered herself a real writer. Semi-autobiographical and somewhat philosophical, the book was an immediate success. Becoming a writer at once gave her a feeling of freedom. It was The Golden Notebook (1962) that was her breakthrough novel and earned much attention among feminists. She later became something of an icon and the book is considered a “feminist bible.”
Doris Lessing was an outspoken opponent of apartheid in South Africa, and spoke regularly about the subject. She practiced Sufism, a branch of Islam.
Lessing is perhaps still best known for The Golden Notebook
Nobel Prize for Literature
When she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007 the jury described her as “that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny.” Lessing was the was the eleventh women and oldest person to receive the award at age eighty-eight. In 2008 The Times put her at number five in the list of “The 50 Greatest British Writers since 1945.”
Lessing passed away on November 17, 2013, at the age of 94.
More about Doris Lessing on this site
Doris Lessing was incredibly prolific; the list of her work below represents but a fraction of her output, as she wrote a great deal of nonfiction as well.
- The Grass is Singing (1950)
- Martha Quest (1952, the first of “The Children of Violence” series
- The Golden Notebook (1962)
- Briefing for a Descent into Hell (1971)
- Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)
- The Summer Before the Dark (1973)
- The Good Terrorist (1985)
- The Fifth Child (1988)
- Ben, in the World (2000)
- The Sweetest Dream (2001)
- The Grandmothers (2004)
Biographies and Autobiographies
- Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949
- Walking In the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography – 1949-1962
- Doris Lessing: Conversations
- Alfred and Emily (a memoir of her parents)
- The Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007
- Reader discussion of Lessing’s books on Goodreads
- My Hero: Doris Lessing by Margaret Drabble
- Doris Lessing: Her Last Telegraph Interview
- Lessing’s Visions of the Future
- Lessing Remembered: Provocative, Blunt, Unforgettable
- Doris Lessing Archive – Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin
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