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From West Hampstead to Zimbabwe: Doris Lessing’s mammoth book collection donated to Harare library

16:33 28 August 2014

Book Aid International volunteers sort through Doris Lessing

Book Aid International volunteers sort through Doris Lessing's mammoth book collection. Picture: www.bookaid.org

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More than 3,000 books began their journey from West Hampstead to Zimbabwe this morning after Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing’s literary collection was bequeathed to Harare City Library.

A view from Doris Lessing's wirting desk at her home in Gondar Gardens, West Hampstead. Picture:  www.bookaid.orgA view from Doris Lessing's wirting desk at her home in Gondar Gardens, West Hampstead. Picture: www.bookaid.org

The former Gondar Gardens resident, writer of over 50 novels ranging from psychological thrillers to science fiction, died at the age of 94 in November last year.

She gained notoriety for her first novel The Grass in Singing (1950) and later The Golden Notebook (1962) - widely considered one of the major works of the 20th century.

Beneficiaries of her Will decided her collection would be sent to the country where she was raised, with charity Book Aid International chosen to deliver the books.

Born in Iran and raised in Rhodesia - now Zimbabwe - Ms Lessing left school at 13-years-old and continued to educate herself by reading the works of Dickens, D.H. Lawrence, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky.

She lived in the country for 25 years, from 1924 to 1949, and returned in 1956, when she 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.

Ms Lessing referred to the people of Zimbabwe as “the most passionate readers anywhere in the World”.

Volunteers from Book Aid International and Ms Lessing’s publisher HarperCollins spent an entire day sorting through the collection at her former home.

The charity said: “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.”

The books began their long journey from her former home this morning and are being transported by ship to be delivered to Zimbabwe some time in October.

For information about Book Aid International, visit www.bookaid.org

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