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Doris Lessing memorial service: Literary world pays tribute to West Hampstead’s Nobel Prize winning author

The literary world today remembered Nobel Prize-winning author and West Hampstead resident Doris Lessing. Picture: Nigel Sutton The literary world today remembered Nobel Prize-winning author and West Hampstead resident Doris Lessing. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Monday, April 7, 2014
7:16 PM

Friends, family and figures from across the literary world gathered to pay tribute to West Hampstead resident and Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing today.

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Doris Lessing at a book reading at West End Lane Books. Picture: Nigel SuttonDoris Lessing at a book reading at West End Lane Books. Picture: Nigel Sutton

The much-lauded novelist, who died peacefully at her home in Gondar Gardens in November, aged 94, was considered one of the most prominent, outspoken and controversial writers of the 20th century.

Penning more than 50 novels ranging from psychological thrillers to science fiction, she gained notoriety for her first novel The Grass is Singing (1950) and later The Golden Notebook (1962).

She also became the oldest person to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 88.

It was a sign of her work’s impact that so many high-profile literary figures attended a memorial service for her in St Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Trafalgar Square today.

Prominent guests included BBC creative director Alan Yentob, novelist Rose Tremain and biographer Sir Michael Holroyd.

Choir singers performed Lessing’s favourite pieces by Philip Glass, who she had collaborated with on an opera, and Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, while close friends revealed the woman behind the novels.

Some of her actor friends also performed readings of her work.

Academic and novelist Christopher Bigsby spoke of Lessing’s love of books while growing up in Rhodesia – now Zimbabwe - and her “fierce loyalty to individuals and ideas”.

“Books opened her life and fired her imagination,” he said.

“She wanted above all to put books in the hands of children, in this country and in Africa.

“She wanted to open their lives in the same way.”

Politics – both local and international – were also remembered as key to understanding her “skills at provocation”.

Taking place in a church that took on a pivotal role in the anti-apartheid movement in the UK, Lessing’s struggle against prejudice, colonialism and “tyranny” were a consistent theme during the service.

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