Updated 26 August 2014
Over 3,000 books from the personal collection of Doris Lessing, the Nobel Prize-winning author, are being donated to the Harare City Library in Zimbabwe and Book Aid International has been asked to help effect the donation. 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.
A member of Doris Lessing’s family wishes to clarify how the donation came about:
“The donation is being made by various beneficiaries under the Will. In making the donation, the estate and the beneficiaries have responded to a request from the Africa Community Publishing and Development Trust, one of the agencies Doris Lessing worked with in Zimbabwe, that books not needed for a special collection at the University of East Anglia be brought to Zimbabwe in honour of her memory and legacy in the country. In light of consultations conducted in Zimbabwe, agreement has been reached that the recently refurbished Harare City Library would be an appropriate home for the collection not only because Doris Lessing lived for some years in Harare, but because she cared deeply about the country and facilitating access to books in Zimbabwe.”
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 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. Lessing referred to the people of Zimbabwe “the most passionate readers anywhere in the World”.
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.
Every year, Book Aid International sends over 50,000 books to Zimbabwe; we have been working in this country since 1959. 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, including in public libraries, university and school libraries.
The plan is that the arrival of Doris Lessing’s collection will be celebrated at a literacy festival, with Lessing’s family, friends and Zimbabwean writers.