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A remarkably prolific British writer, Doris Lessing was responsible for more than 50 published works in her long lifetime. Most widely known as a fiction author, Lessing also penned poems, plays and even operas. The daughter of a military officer, she was brought up in the countries that are now Iran and Zimbabwe before her family returned to England. Leaving school while still in her teens, Lessing remained intellectually restless and embraced far left views during young adulthood. In 1950, her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, was published and met with considerable success. From then on, Lessing offered up her stories relatively regularly, with her writings, including the 1974 dystopian tale, The Memoirs of a Survivor, often featuring feminist themes. Both of the aforementioned books were adapted into films in 1981, and her work received further cinematic treatments in the following decades. She died in 2013, six years after receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, an award that apparently meant little to her but echoed the adoration of the generations who had been reading her writings for decades.
Born in what was then known as Persia, Lessing was raised in a strict military family that relocated to Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) during the mid-1920s. After an abandoned attempt at farming, the Lessings returned to Great Britain, where she was educated at an all-girls school before dropping out. Taking on various jobs, Lessing eventually married and became a mother, though admittedly neither role suited her well. A writer since her teenage years, she opted to pursue the form more intently in her 30s, and her debut, The Grass Is Singing, was released in 1950. Drawing largely on her experiences in colonial Africa, the 1940s-set story detailed the racial dynamic between the white and black cultures of Rhodesia. The success of the novel enabled Lessing to continue as a writer, with many works following, including 1962's acclaimed The Golden Notebook, a tale exploring themes of Communism and feminism. During the early to mid-1960s, Lessing also dabbled in writing for TV, penning episodes of various shows for Granada Television, including installments of the drama "Maupassant" (1963).
In 1974, another one of Lessing's most highly regarded works, The Memoirs of a Survivor, was published, and it featured her leaning in a more fantastical direction. This inclination was furthered with 1979's Shikasta, a science-fiction novel that featured sociological and evolutionary themes. The book proved to be the first in a series that Lessing entitled Canopus in Argos: Archives. While faithful readers struggled to adjust to her new approach, film versions of her older works surfaced. "Killing Heat," an adaptation of The Grass Is Singing featuring Karen Black, debuted in 1981, and that same year a British production of The Memoirs of a Survivor, starring Julie Christie, also saw the light of day, though neither movie found a wide audience. During the mid-1980s and again in the mid-90s, she collaborated with composer Philip Glass on opera adaptations of chapters in her Canopus in Argos: Archives saga, with Lessing herself writing the librettos.
Age didn't slow Lessing down much, even after a small stroke, and she continued writing into her 80s, notably unveiling The Grandmothers: Four Short Novels in 2003. In 2007, her novel The Cleft was published, and she also received the Nobel Prize in Literature, making history as the oldest recipient of the prestigious award up to that point. The following year, she unveiled her final novel, the semi-fictional Alfred & Emily, which focused on her parents' relationship. Five years later, a big-screen version of The Grandmothers was released as "Adore," with Naomi Watts and Robin Wright playing the son-obsessed central characters. Months later Lessing died at age 94, with many fellow writers acknowledging the influence of her thoughtful and exceptionally dynamic work.
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