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October 12, 2007

A Bill Moyers essay honoring Doris Lessing.

BILL MOYERS: Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize for literature this week. No sooner had reporters cornered her on the stoop of her London house then she abruptly excused herself. "I'm going upstairs," the 87 year old writer explained. "To find some suitable sentences which i will be using from now on." Finding just the right words, time and again, has made Doris Lessing one of the world's most distinguished authors. Born in Persia and raised in Africa, Doris has transformed her remarkable life into a literary tour d'force and making the personal, political. She first came to world-wide attention in 1962 with her novel "The Golden Notebook." More than twenty more novels followed, along with operas, plays, poetry and other works This month, her 25th novel, "The Cleft" arrives in bookstores. Four years ago, I talked with Doris Lessing about her life and work in this interview which was first broadcast on "NOW"...

BILL MOYERS: Do you never stop writing?

DORIS LESSING: No. I'm compulsive. And I deeply think that it has to be something very neurotic. And I'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 and happiness. I don't have to do anything. Nothing. 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 you account for that nonsense?

BILL MOYERS: Was there-- what we call an ah-ha moment-- a eureka moment ...when you knew that you were going to spend your life writing, rather successfully or not. Was there such a moment?

DORIS LESSING: Well, I was writing all my childhood. And I 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: You left school at age 14, right?

DORIS LESSING: Fourteen. Yeah. And I wasn't trained for anything.

BILL MOYERS: What was there in a young girl-- you know, 12, 13, 14 or 15, that said "I want to write?"

DORIS LESSING: I was, at that time, being what we now called an au pair. I was a nursemaid. And it was pretty boring. So I thought, "Well, let's try and write a novel." I wrote two. I went back to the farm, and wrote two novels.


DORIS LESSING: This was in Africa.

BILL MOYERS: Where did that idea come from? Had you read a lot? Had somebody ...

DORIS LESSING: I never stopped reading. You know. I read and read and read. And it was what saved me. And educated me. So, writing a novel seemed to be a way out.

BILL MOYERS: As you talk I think of the traumatic century you lived through ...all those events. You were born right at the end of the first great war. You lived through the Great Depression. You lived through the Second World War. You lived through the nuclear era, the Cold War, the genocide, the collapse of the British Empire. I mean, does anything remain of the world you knew when you were young?

DORIS LESSING: Nothing. Nothing at all. The World War I, I'm a child of World War I. And I really know about 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's like to be brought up in an atmosphere of a continual harping on the war.

BILL MOYERS: Your father couldn't stop talking about it?

DORIS LESSING: No. He was obsessed with it. He talked and the other old soldiers in you know the district I was brought up in-- there were half a dozen of them. And I used to listen, 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: That's it for the JOURNAL. We'll be back next week. Until then, keep in touch on the blog at I'm Bill Moyers.

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