I first encountered Doris Lessing’s writing when I was serving in the Navy, stationed at the Naval Hospital at the Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina.
I plucked one of her books off the shelf in the library, having no idea who she was or how significant her work had been to twentieth century literature.
The book I selected was from her science fiction series, Canopus in Argos, I took the first book in that five part series off the shelf, titled: Shikasta and I read it over the next few days.
Reading Shikasta filled me with a kind of existential pique. Her characters were so real, the questions they grappled were profound, especially to me at that time in my life, and the response she gave to those questions moved me.
Through her characters she addressed the philosophical questions and fundamental truths that mattered to me most:
What is the nature of reality?
What is the purpose of existence?
What is the meaning of life?
Doris Lessing did not attempt to answer these questions the way that a philosopher would, by presenting a set of propositions with arguments for and against, laid out in a treatise or an essay.
She presents them in narrative, through the choices her characters make and the consequences they face, and the way they reflect on them.
I soon discovered how influential she was in English departments all around the world. Every literature major I met was familiar with her famous work, The Golden Notebook.
As I read more deeply into her collection, I found myself more interested in her examination of more subversive topics, Memoirs of a Survivor, Briefing for a Descent into Hell, and The Good Terrorist.
It was then that I discovered how much of a radical this woman had been, and I was grateful to have been able to encounter her through her literature.
She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007.
Given First – 2020.11.17