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Doris Lessing (1919 – )

The Order of Mapungubwe in

Doris Lessing (1919 – ) Awarded for:
Her exceptional achievements in literature and contributing to the elimination of colonialism and apartheid.
Profile of Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing was born Doris May Tayler in Persia (now Iran) on 22 October 1919. The family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Doris attended a convent school, but was later sent to an all-girls high school in the then capital of Salisbury, from which she soon dropped out at the age of 13. This was the end of her formal education and from then on, Lessing taught herself.

Lessing left home at 15 and took a job as a nursemaid. Her employer gave her books on politics and sociology to read. She also wrote stories, and sold two to magazines in South Africa.

In 1937, she moved to the then Salisbury. By 1949, she had moved to London where she published her first novel, The Grass is Singing, and began her career as professional writer.

Lessing’s fiction is deeply autobiographical, much of it emerging out of her experiences in Africa. Drawing upon her childhood memories and her serious engagement with politics and social concerns, Lessing has written about the clash of cultures, the gross injustices of racial inequality, the struggle among opposing elements within an individual’s own personality and the conflict between the individual conscience and the collective good. Her stories and novellas set in Africa, published during the 1950s and early 1960s, decry the dispossession of black Africans by white colonials, and expose the sterility of the white culture in southern Africa. In 1956, in response to Lessing’s courageous outspokenness, she was declared a prohibited alien in both Southern Rhodesia and South Africa.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Lessing began to explore more fully the quasi-mystical insight Anna Wulf seems to reach by the end of The Golden Notebook.

Lessing’s other novels include The Good Terrorist (1985) and The Fifth Child (1988). She also published two novels under the pseudonym Jane Somers [The Diary of a Good Neighbour (1983) and If the Old Could ... (1984)].

In addition, she has written several non-fiction works, including books about cats, a love since childhood. Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 appeared in 1995 and received the James Tait Black Prize for best biography. She collaborated with illustrator Charlie Adlard to create the unique and unusual graphic novel, Playing the Game.

In 1996, her first novel in seven years, Love Again, was published by HarperCollins. She did not make any personal appearances to promote the book. Lessing was on the list of nominees for the Nobel Prize for Literature and Britain’s Writer’s Guild Award for Fiction in 1996.

Late in the year, HarperCollins published Play with a Tiger and Other Plays, a compilation of three of her plays: Play with a Tiger, The Singing Door and Each His Own Wilderness. In 1997, she collaborated with Philip Glass for the second time, providing the libretto for the opera The Marriages between Zones Three, Four and Five, which premiered in Heidelberg, Germany, in May. Walking in the Shade, the anxiously awaited second volume of her autobiography, was published in October and was nominated for the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award in the Biography/Autobiography Category.

Her novel, titled Mara and Dann, was published in the United States of America (USA) in January 1999 and in the United Kingdom (UK) in April 1999. On 31 December 1999, in the UK’s last Honours List before the new millennium, Lessing was appointed a Companion of Honour, an exclusive order for those who have done “conspicuous national service”.

Ben, in the World, the sequel to The Fifth Child was published in the spring of 2000 in the UK and summer of 2000 in the USA.

She was on the shortlist for the first Man Booker International Prize in 2005. In 2007, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

With a fecund mind and concern for the human condition, Doris Lessing has unleashed her remarkable talent to raise deeper issues about the state of human society. She was able to transcend her colonial heritage to see the world in different terms.

Her most recent novel is Alfred and Emily. She has announced that it is her final book.