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Doris May, LESSING

Doris May Lessing was born of British parents in Persia (now Iran), in 1919 and moved with her family to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) when she was five. She grew up in Africa and travelled to England for the first time in 1949, carrying with her the manuscript of her first novel, The Grass is Singing, which was published a year later (Michael Joseph, 1950). In her work In Pursuit of Englishness, (1960) Lessing went on to put down her experiences as a new migrant in London of the Fifties, especially the duality of a colonial subject brought face to face with the reality of life at the centre of the Empire. A tireless campaigner against all forms of colonialism and oppression in general, Lessing became for a time a member of the British Communist Party. She was banned from returning to Rhodesia by Ian Simth's regime and came to be known as one of the White voices from Africa who most compassionately identified with the Black majority. She has written novels, essays and reviews, and her science-fiction has long become the focus of a cult following. In recent years Doris Lessing's relationship with the new Zimbabwe has remained somewhat troubled, with works such as her accounts of her travels in Africa reflecting a sense of disillusionment with the way the new post-colonial nation has turned out. Her work has been translated into a number of languages and is regularly re-issued or re-printed.

Among her major works are:

  • The Golden Notebook(1962),
  • Martha Quest and a proper marriage,
  • The Four-Gated City (1969) and
  • The Fifth Child (1988)
  • Mara and Dann: An Adventure(1999).

    Sources: Michael Chapman, Tony Simoes da Silva.

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    Alex, LA GUMA (1925-1985)

    Alex La Guma, a writer and political activist, was born to a "colored" (mixed-race) family in Cape Town in 1925. His parents were active in left wing politics and the labor movement, and La Guma grew up conscious of the political and socioeconomic implications of South Africa's separatist policies. He did not begin writing fiction until after he turned thirty. He wrote five novels, over a dozen short stories and many political essays. He was repeatedly harassed by the South African government as a result of his political activities, and emigrated to England in 1966. Most of his work, fiction and non-fiction deals with South African subjects, focusing on the conflict between the races. Throughout his work, he stresses the importance of collective action and the need to care for others.

    In his first novel, A Walk in the Night (1962), La Guma describes the political and social existence of the "colored" people of the District Six slum in Cape Town. He examines the life of the district though the actions of four characters during the course of one night. He focuses on the decay and despair of the slum, whose residents are frequently too absorbed by their own miserable state to react to it, and thus suffer alone. In doing so, he explores the connection between rights and responsibilities through the unfolding of his characters' decisions and actions.

    In the Fog of the Season's End (1972), his most autobiographical novel, La Guma describes the South African struggles through characters who are involved in political resistance, unlike the lonely victims of his earlier works. Although the main character, Beukes, has reached the conclusion that collective action is essential to solving the problems of South Africa's system, the author uses flashbacks to reveal the squalor and despair which are the source of the political movement. The characters overcome the isolation and disconnectedness which plague the subjects in his earlier works in order to work together towards their goal.

    Throughout his fictional writings about South Africa, La Guma explores the tension between human rights and social responsibility against the backdrop of the nation's separatist policies. The moral development of his characters is closely tied their potential to improve their country's future. (KJ)

    A Walk in the Night. Ibadan, Nigeria: Mbari, 1962.
    And a Threefold Cord. Berlin: Seven Seas, 1964.
    In the Fog of the Season's End. London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1972.

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