A Tribute to Doris Lessing

We end as we began this week, with a metaphor;in this case, the phoenix—that great bird of ancient Greek mythology—reborn and risingfrom its own ashes, a bright and colorful symbol of renewal.

That's how the Nobel Prize-winningwriter Doris Lessing described the storyteller she believed is deep inside each one of us.

"It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker that is our phoenix," she said,"that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.

"Doris Lessing died last Sunday, age 94.

"There is no doubt fiction makes a better job ofthe truth," she wrote, and so she proved in her master work, "The Golden Notebook," andthe many other novels written throughout a literary career that spanned six decades.

She was an iconoclast.

She didn't suffer fools; she said what she meant and meant what shesaid, with no holds barred and no subject off limits.

I spoke with her ten years ago as she described growing up in Africa and her one great love,the written word.

BILL MOYERS in NOW:Do you never stop writing? DORIS LESSING in NOW:No.

I'm compulsive.

And I deeply think that it has to be something very neurotic.

AndI'm not joking.

It has to be.

Because if I've finished a book, and this wonderful release,which I'm now feeling.

It's off, it's in a parcel, it's gone to a publisher.

Bliss andhappiness.

I don't have to do anything.


I can just sit around.

But, suddenly it starts,you see.

This terrible feeling that I am just wasting my life, I'm useless, I'm no good.

Now, it's a fact that if I spend a day busy as a little kitten, racing around.

I do this,I do that.

But I haven't written, so it's a wasted day, and I'm no good.

How do youaccount for that nonsense? BILL MOYERS in NOW:Was there what we call an ah-ha moment, a eureka moment, when you knew that you weregoing to spend your life writing, rather successfully or not.

Was there such a moment?DORIS LESSING in NOW: Well, I was writing all my childhood.

AndI wrote two novels when I was 17, which were terrible.

And I'm not sorry I threw them out.

So, I wrote.

I had to write.

You know, the thing was, I had no education.

BILL MOYERS in NOW: You left school at age 14, right?DORIS LESSING in NOW: Fourteen.


And I wasn't trained for anything.

BILL MOYERS in NOW: What was there in a young girl, you know,12, 13, 14 or 15, that said "I want to write?" DORIS LESSING in NOW:I was, at that time, being what we now called an au pair.

I was a nursemaid.

And it waspretty boring.

So I thought, "Well, let's try and write a novel.

" I wrote two.

I wentback to the farm, and wrote two novels.


DORIS LESSING in NOW:This was in Africa.

BILL MOYERS in NOW:Where did that idea come from? Had you read a lot? Had somebody–DORIS LESSING in NOW: I never stopped reading.

You know.

I readand read and read.

And it was what saved me.

And educated me.

So, writing a novel seemedto be a way out.

BILL MOYERS in NOW:As you talk I think of the traumatic century you lived through, all those events.

You wereborn right at the end of the first Great War.

You lived through the Great Depression.

Youlived through the Second World War.

You lived through the nuclear era, the Cold War, genocide,the collapse of the British Empire.

I mean, does anything remain of the world you knewwhen you were young? DORIS LESSING in NOW:Nothing.

Nothing at all.

The World War I– I'm a child of World War I.

And I really knowabout the children of war.

Because both my parents were both badly damaged by the war.

My father, physically, and both, mentally and emotionally.

So, I know exactly what it'slike to be brought up in an atmosphere of a continual harping on the war.

BILL MOYERS in NOW: He couldn't stop talking about it? Your fathercouldn't stop talking about it? DORIS LESSING in NOW:No.

He was obsessed with it.

It was terrible, you know? These men were — had been so traumatized.

Though, of course, outwardly, they were very civilized and good and kind and everything.

But in actual fact, they were war victims.

BILL MOYERS in NOW::We keep having wars despite the fact that great novelists tell us the truth about wars.

DORIS LESSING in NOW: Well, we don't have much effect, do we? Doyou know when I first recognized that horrible truth, I was standing in Southern Rhodesia.

I was very young, and watching the night's bag of prisoners, the Africans who were beingcaught out without passes.

Hand cuffed, walking down the street.

With the jailers, white,in front and back.

And I looked at that and I thought, "Right, well, this is describedin Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and all the others.

So what have they achieved?" is what I thought.

Didn't stop me writing novels, though.

I think we might have a limited effect on a smallnumber of people.

I hope a good one.

BILL MOYERS in NOW:But you keep writing.


I have to.

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