Doris Lessing, the Nobel Prize-winning author, has donated her entire personal collection of over 3,000 books to the Harare City Library in Zimbabwe and her executors have asked Book Aid International to help. During her life, Lessing was a strong supporter of Book Aid International, so we are particularly glad to be able to help carry out her wishes.
Doris Lessing lived in Zimbabwe (which was then Southern Rhodesia) for 25 years, from 1924 to 1949. She returned in 1956, but was declared a prohibited migrant after speaking out about the Rhodesian regime. She was allowed back to into the country in 1982; and after 1988 she visited Zimbabwe and nurtured two initiatives by the Africa Book Development Organisation and the Africa Community Publishing and Development Trust to provide opportunities for reading and learning through libraries.
Our team, led by Gardner Thompson and volunteers from Lessing’s publisher HarperCollins, spent a day this week carefully sorting and packing up Lessing’s library in her former home in London. Vanessa Bloor from HarperCollins was fascinated by the variety and breadth of Lessing’s library – “A collection to aspire to!” Felicity Highet was inspired to help Book Aid International as she was reading one of Lessing’s books, The Golden Notebook, when the call went out for volunteers. Lettice Franklin works for Doris Lessing’s editor, and helped to make arrangements for Lessing’s memorial service, so she wanted to be there to help make these last arrangements for the author.
We found books not just in every room of Lessing’s home, but on shelves in every space where shelves could be fitted, in hallways, under stairs – there were books everywhere. Lessing’s collection consists of a wonderful variety of reference books, non-fiction and fiction, poetry, biographies and history books. These books will be deeply appreciated by the people of Zimbabwe, for whom books are a precious but rare resource.
Every year, Book Aid International sends over 50,000 books to Zimbabwe. Libraries in Zimbabwe often have no budget for new books so in many libraries Book Aid International books comprise up to 80 per cent of their collection.
The arrival of the Doris Lessing’s collection will be celebrated at a literacy festival in November 2014, with Lessing’s family, friends and Zimbabwean writers.