Doris Lessing bequeathes her library to Zimbabwe

via Doris Lessing bequeathes her library to Zimbabwe | Book Aid International 22 August 2014

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.


  • comment-avatar
    Rwendo 8 years ago

    What a wonderful, living gift. Some of these books will be valuable collectibles, due to a combination of title and owner; hopefully they will a viable plan for protecting them for future generations..

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    John Thomas 8 years ago

    Watch the gift being squandered, stolen and lost

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    Doris 8 years ago

    Keep a check on the most valuable of these books. Guarantee that they will end up being auctioned and the proceeds put into a back pocket.

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    Oh…This is terrible…her untire archive will be lost, or destroyed…she must leave it in the hands of somebody who has a responsible attitude

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      Oh this is REALLY HORRIFIC! Leave it in Zimbabwean hands…oh no! It must go to a decent proper archive…PLEASE!

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    avenger/revenger 8 years ago

    Very noble but I hope you won’t be soon turning in your grave like the great benefactor Cecil Rhodes. Compare your legacy to what the criminal robber muggers is leaving our cuntry

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    Roger 8 years ago

    I’ve helped arrange this on behalf of Harare City Library. The books will not be stolen or lost. They will be looked after and made available to the public, which is what she wanted. These are not rare first editions, which are going to the Doris Lessing archive at the University of East Anglia. They are simply the books from her personal library.

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    nyoni 8 years ago

    While it is commendable to help our fellow Zlmbabweans it must be remembered this government is poor and begging for monies. What will become of this collection will be anyones guess.

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      The Librarian 8 years ago

      Well appreciated indeed… if I got it right, this donation is for Harare City Library which is a separate entity from the govt. As such, it will be in the hands of responsible librarians (custodians). Consequently, they may create a special collection in her honour and preserve them accordingly with the whole world fully aware. Therefore, any paranoia of them disappearing or someone befitting inappropriately may be unfounded.

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        It is not paranoia…having lived all my life in Zim. and thankfully got out now, I can personally state that there is NO responsibility left there now. Maybe some well meaning,naive people will work to restore the Library, but as soon as they complete their work, the chaos will resume and all will be lost. It is pointless doing any restoration in Zim, as nothing is appreciated any more. The place is a totally uncivilised cesspool, and it will never come right in the forseeable future. There is hardly a working door in the goverment schools, and I am being absolutely honest when I say that. Door handles and whole doors ripped off, stairs and railings smashed to hell, fittings ripped off, no working equipment, everything stolen or trashed, electrical plugs and sockets smashed,windows broken,toilets overflowing (when there is actually water in the pipes)… the entire infrastructure in a total state of disrepair. The do-gooders need to live there for just a month, and they will see what I mean. And they need to live in the areas that cannot afford the power generators, boreholes etc. that provide solace for the rich and corrupt.

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    Barbara 8 years ago

    It is a wonderful gift from Doris Lessing to the people of Zimbabwe, the country and people she loved. In the UK, people have too many books and couldn’t care less about them. The widow of a famous archaeologist recently tried to find a UK library, academic or otherwise, to donate his book collection to – they don’t have the shelf space and aren’t interested. And for those who don’t know, instead of bemoaning the problems, a group of Zimbabwean citizens are working to restore Harare City Library and make it a place for everyone to benefit from again. Doris Lessing’s books couldn’t be in a more appropriate place.