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Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing dies; wrote 'The Golden Notebook'

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • HarperCollins UK CEO says Lessing had "a fierce intellect and a warm heart"
  • Lessing "passed away peacefully" at her London home, publisher says
  • "I was born to write," Lessing said
  • Lessing won the Nobel prize in literature at the age of 88

By Alan Duke

Author Doris Lessing, who won a Nobel Prize for her life of literature, died Sunday at age 94, her publisher, HarperCollins, said.

The British author was best known for "The Golden Notebook," which is considered by many critics to be one of the most important feminist novels ever written.

Lessing "passed away peacefully" at her London home early Sunday, according to HarperCollins spokeswoman Susanna Frayn.

Lessing began writing at 7, which she said was not the result of inspiration, but her innate capacity.

"I was born to write, as other people are born to paint ... that's all," she said. "Writers tell stories. This is what we do."

Lessing was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 2007 at the age of 88. The Swedish academy called her "the epicist of the female experience" who had "subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny."

"She is survived by her daughter Jean and granddaughters Anna and Susannah," the publisher said. "Her family has asked for privacy at this time."

Lessing was born to British parents in Persia (now Iran). Much of her fiction was based on her experiences growing up in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where she moved as a young child.

Her mother raised her on storytelling, reading stories that Lessing gave her own spin when sharing them with her younger brother. These childhood stories evolved into the powerful fiction that made up her 50 books.

Lessing, who dropped out of a school in the Rhodesian capital, Salisbury, when she was just 13, developed her writing skills by reading the works of Dickens, Tolstoy, D.H. Lawrence and Dostoevsky.

"I educated myself by reading," she said.

In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Lessing spoke of the desperate struggle for knowledge of people in some developing countries.

"Not long ago a friend who had been in Zimbabwe told me about a village where people had not eaten for three days, but they were still talking about books and how to get them, about education."

She left home at 15 to work as a nursemaid but also started writing stories and later sold two of them to magazines in South Africa.

Her first novel, "The Grass is Singing," was in her suitcase when she moved to London in 1949, the HarperCollins statement said. Published in 1950, it examines the tension between oppressed black Africans and white colonials.

Lessing "broke new ground" in 1962 with "The Golden Notebook," the publisher said. HarperCollins editor Nicholas Pearson called it "a handbook to a whole generation."

"But her many books have spoken to us in so many various ways," Pearson said. "Doris has been called a visionary and, to be in her company, which was a privilege I had as her editor towards the end of her writing life, was to experience something of that. Even in very old age she was always intellectually restless, reinventing herself, curious about the changing world around us, always completely inspirational. We'll miss her hugely."

"She was a wonderful writer with a fascinating and original mind; it was a privilege to work for her and we shall miss her immensely," longtime friend and agent Jonathan Clowes said Sunday.

"Doris Lessing was a one of the great writers of our age," HarperCollins UK CEO Charlie Redmayne said. "She was a compelling storyteller with a fierce intellect and a warm heart who was not afraid to fight for what she believed in. It was an honor for HarperCollins to publish her."
   
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