Fifty books is an achievement, but it’s for the breadth of the work that she should be measured: novelist, poet, playwright, librettist, biographer and short story writer. She was able to cross genres with relative ease.
The first novel of hers I read happened to be her debut, The Grass Is Singing (1950), an unflinching powerful account of colonial Africa.
Her most popular novel sequence or series was Children of Violence – Martha Quest, A Proper Marriage, A Ripple from the Storm, Landlocked and The Four-Gated City.
She was equally at home with short stories – and wrote many – and science fiction, with her 5-book series, the Canopus in Argos Archives; two of the latter were adapted for the opera by Philip Glass and Lessing wrote the librettos. A number of her books were filmed, including the dystopian Memoirs of a Survivor.
Mischievously, in 1984 she wrote two novels under the penname Jane Somers and they were initially turned down by her own publisher. She hadn't told them she was the author. ''I wanted to highlight that whole dreadful process in book publishing that 'nothing succeeds like success.' If the books had come out in my name, they would have sold a lot of copies and reviewers would have said, 'Oh, Doris Lessing, how wonderful.'" They were published, eventually, showing that her writing skill won through past the gatekeepers. Under the pseudonym, the two books achieved instant remainder status, selling around 3,000 and 1,500 copies respectively. Of course when she came clean, their sales were a different story. Reminds anyone of J.K. Rowling?
She was born in Iran, brought up in the African bush in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia, as was) – where her first novel was set. She was a London resident for over fifty years.
She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature when she was 88, in 2007.