Doris Lessing dead: Nobel Prize-winning British author was 94

Writer Doris Lessing, 86 at her home in Writer Doris Lessing, 86 at her home in London in 2006. Photo Credit: AP

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Doris Lessing, the British author awarded a Nobel Prize in literature for a lifetime of writing about gender and race, drawing on her own upbringing in Africa, has died. She was 94.

Lessing died at her home in north London, where she lived for the past two decades, her publisher, HarperCollins, said in an emailed statement.

Born to English parents in present-day Iran, and raised in what is now Zimbabwe, Lessing witnessed the demise of the British Empire, race-based governments in Africa and the communist movement she briefly joined after World War II. Her novels and short stories challenged the notion of fixed truths and permanent institutions.

Her best-known work, the largely autobiographical 1962 novel "The Golden Notebook," tells the story of an independent, modern woman in Africa who records her varied life experiences in four notebooks and tries, in a fifth, to weave them into a coherent picture of a complex life.

The Swedish Academy, in awarding Lessing the Nobel Prize, called her "that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny." Lessing was 87 when the award was announced in October 2007, the oldest recipient of the literature prize. In presenting it, writer Per Wastberg, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Literature, said Lessing "has displayed an almost limitless empathy with odd lives and a freedom from prejudice regarding every form of human behavior."

In her acceptance speech, read by her publicist because Lessing was unable to travel to the event, she addressed the importance of writing and the "astonishing phenomenon, this hunger for books," particularly in Africa.

"The storyteller is deep inside every one of us. The story-maker is always with us," Lessing said. "It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the mythmaker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative."

Lessing's early work in the 1950s and 1960s focused on the oppression of Africa's black population by white colonists. Her first novel, "The Grass is Singing" (1950), revolved around the murder of a white woman by her black servant.

An outspoken critic of apartheid, Lessing was banned from South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1956. She made a 1995 visit to post-apartheid South Africa, where her daughter and grandchildren were living.

You also may be interested in: