Doris Lessing at 100: The Writer's Quest - Academic Conference, 12-14 Sep 2019

The School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at UEA hosted an international conference to mark the centenary of Lessing's birth.

Doris Lessing is one of the most widely-read and culturally important writers of the twentieth century, yet her academic reputation does not reflect this fact. On the occasion of her centenary, this conference proposed a new critical exploration of the life and work of a complex and multifaceted writer, presenting an opportunity to rethink her contribution to modern literature. It also sought to establish Lessing as a central figure in twentieth-century literature who traverses a range of forms, styles, periodising categories, genres, political orientations, and readerships.

Proposals were sought for 20 minute papers, panels, roundtables, and creative contributions. The closing date was 30th April 2019.

The conference took place at the University of East Anglia, an institution that Lessing had a strong connection with, and to which she donated her extensive personal papers Doris Lessing Archive at UEA.

The event coincided with an exhibition dedicated to Lessing's life and work in the Sainsbury Centre at UEA, which saw letters, manuscripts and personal effects on public display for the first time.


Conference Programme

Programme which includes abstracts and biographies of speakers [PDF]

All panel events, keynotes and breaks took place in the Julian Study Centre. The 'In Conversation' event with Margaret Drabble and the Conference dinner took place in the Sainsbury Centre.


Day One: Thursday 12th September

1300-1330: Registration and Welcome in the Julian Study Centre Foyer


1330-1500: Parallel Panels

Panel 1: Writing Life

  • Cristina Gamberi (University of Bologna) - ‘Doris Lessing’s Life Narratives. A Gender and Postcolonial Reading’
  • Emma Parker (University of Leeds)- ‘Doris Lessing: Life Writing After Empire’
  • Linda Weinhouse (Community College of Baltimore County) - ‘The Curious Case of Alfred and Emily – A Revisionist Look at World War I Nursing’

Panel 2: The Planetary Perspective

  • Rosario Arias (University of Málaga)- ‘Re-orienting Doris Lessing towards the Anthropocene’
  • Soghra Azari (Affiliation TBC) - ‘The Emancipation of women in Canopus in Argos’
  • Matthew Martinez (Birkbeck, University of London) - ‘The Transformative Potential of Doris Lessing’s Space Fiction’


1500-1530: Refreshment Break and Registration


1530-1700: Parallel Panels

Panel 3: From the Archives 1

  • James Arnett (University of Tennessee-Chattanooga) - ‘Doris Lessing and her African Archives’
  • Jacob Rollinson (UEA) - ‘Triviality, materiality and synchronicity in the Lessing Archive’
  • Paul Schlueter (Independent) - ‘My Fifty Years of Friendship with Lessing’

Panel 4: Mind & Voice

  • Anne-Laure Brevet (Cambridge / Independent) - ‘The reflexive mind in Doris Lessing’s "Landlocked" poem (1946) and novel (1965)’
  • Mahmudul Hasan (International Islamic University Malaysia) - ‘Lessing’s Theory of Literature: A Study of The Small Personal Voice’
  • Mark Taylor (National Research University, Moscow) - ‘Ideas Flow Through Our Minds Like Water: Doris Lessing and Telepathy’


1800-1845: Buffet Dinner / Julian Study Centre Foyer

Margaret Drabble and Roberta Rubenstein in conversation with Chris Bigsby (UEA) / Sainsbury Centre’s Modern Life Café/ Doors at 1900 / 1945-2100.
Public access to the Doris Lessing 100 exhibition from 2100-2200 on Thu 12 Sep. Tour of the exhibition by the curator's took place on Fri 13 Sep before the conference dinner. Delegates were able to visit the exhibition at any point during the conference weekend Fri/Sat/Sun by wearing their exhibition sticker.


Day Two: Friday 13th September

930-1100: Parallel Panels

Panel 5: Critical Reappraisals

  • Cornelius Collins (Fordham University) - ‘Irony as an Ethical Stance in the Work of Doris Lessing’
  • Philip Tsang (University of Cincinnati)- ‘Citizens of That Other Country: Doris Lessing and Late Realism’
  • Robin Visel (Furman University)- ‘Lessing Criticism in North America: A Semicentennial Reappraisal’

Panel 6: Communism, Politics and the Working Class

  • Matti Ron (UEA) - ‘Doris Lessing’s Problem With Proletarians’
  • Henry Stead (University of St Andrews) - ‘Comrade Doris: Lessing’s correspondence with the Foreign Commission of Soviet Writers in the 1950s’
  • Matthew Taunton (UEA) - ‘Doris Lessing and the Language of Communism’


1100-1130: Refreshment Break


1130-1230: Keynote Lecture

Nick Hubble (Brunel University London) ‘“The Ordinariness of the Extraordinary?”: The Proletarian Fantastic in Lessing’s Fiction of Social Change’


1230-1330: Lunch


1330-1500: Parallel Panels

Panel 7: From the Archives 2

  • Justine Mann (UEA Archives) - ‘”Oh academics”: Lessing's resistance to categorisation in her letters at UEA’
  • Lisa Pulsifer (Harry Ransom Center)- ‘I can read this, can you?: The Doris Lessing Archive at the Harry Ransom Center’
  • Pamela Thurschwell (University of Sussex) - ‘Falling in Love with Everyone: Lessing’s Letters to Smithie at the Keep, University of Sussex’

Panel 8: Intersections of Genre and Gender

  • Daria Forlenza (Independent) - ‘Doris Lessing’s work between fiction and journalism: the case of The Grass is Singing’
  • Gizem Koçak (Bilkent University)- ‘Lessing’s Literary World: Intersections Between Different Genres’
  • Selcuk Senturk (University of Leicester) - ‘Rebalancing the Human Relationships in Lessing’s Fiction: From Independent Women to Dependent Men’


1500-1530: Refreshment Break


1530-1700: Parallel Panels

Panel 9: Sufi Encounters

  • Nile Green (University of California, Los Angeles) - ‘The Afghan from Shangri-La: Doris Lessing’s Sufi Mentor’
  • Sun Hwa Park (Konkuk Univeristy, South Korea) - ‘Sufism and Lessing's Religious Vision in The Memoirs of a Survivor’
  • Robert Twigger (Independent) - ‘Doris Lessing and her teacher Idries Shah’

Panel 10: The Long Life

  • Carmen García-Navarro (Universidad de Almería) - ‘Exploring Ageing with Doris Lessing: an experience in Higher Education’
  • Swaty Mitra (Barasat Government College, Kolkata) - ‘Morphed Stories: A Re-reading of The Diaries of Jane Somers and Love, Again’
  • Nonia Williams (UEA) - ‘The Textures and Textualities of Ageing’

   1700-1800: Keynote Lecture

Roberta Rubenstein (American University, Washington) ‘Doris Lessing's Speculative Histories of Futures Past’

Drinks and dinner take place in the Sainsbury Centre. There will also be a curatorial tour of the Doris Lessing 100 exhibition.


Day Three: Saturday 14th September

930-1100: Parallel Panels

Panel 11: Lessing in the World

  • Duncan Large (UEA) - ‘Lessing in Translation: Towards an International Reception History’
  • Alberto Lazaro Lafuente (Universidad de Alcalá) - ‘The Reception in Spain of Doris Lessing’s Views on the Female Experience’
  • Emma-Louise Jay (La Colegiatura Colombiana, Colombia) - ‘Mistresses and Servants: Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing from an acculturated Colombian perspective’

Panel 12: Terrorism and the Home

  • Kanae Sekino (University of Leeds)- ‘Home-making and Women’s Work in Doris Lessing’s The Good Terrorist’
  • Fiona Tolan (Liverpool John Moores University) - ‘The Politics of Cleaning in Doris Lessing’s Fiction: The Diary of a Good Neighbour and The Good Terrorist’

   Panel 13: The Golden Notebook

  • Arwa Al-Mubaddel (Cardiff University)- ‘Metamodern Oscillation in Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook’
  • Tamara Sampey-Jawad (Independent) - 'Writing the road to freedom: a Marxist feminist analysis of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook'
  • Sandra Singer (The University of Guelph) - 'A Look into Lessing’s Legacy: Comparing The Golden Notebook and Sarah Henstra’s The Red Word'


1100-1130: Refreshment Break


1130-1300: Parallel Panels

Panel 14: Lessing and PostHumanism

  • Claire Hanson (University of Southampton) - ‘Lessing, Whitehead and the Posthuman: Canopus in Argos’
  • Alice Ridout (Algoma University)- ‘Doris Lessing’s The Summer Before the Dark: Eco-anxiety, Solastalgia, and Wellness in the End Times’
  • Susan Watkins (Leeds Beckett University) - ‘The Chthulucene, the Posthuman and Apocalyptic Time in Doris Lessing’s “Ifrik” Novels’

Panel 15: Colonialism and Beyond

  • Elizabeth Jackson (University of the West Indies) - ‘Doris Lessing and Cosmopolitanism’
  • Pat Louw (University of Zululand)- ‘Layered Colonialism: the Afrikaner in Doris Lessing’s African Stories’
  • Josna Rege (Worcester State University) - ‘Corrective Exile: Mapping Migration and Displacement in Doris Lessing’s Oeuvre’


1300-1400: Lunch


1400-1500: Plenary Panel

Plenary discussion led by panel Chairs and others reflecting on the conference outcomes


1500: Conference Ends


Keynote speakers:

*Patrick French (Lessing’s official biographer) in conversation with Professor Christopher Bigsby (UEA)

Dr. Nick Hubble (Brunel University)

Professor Roberta Rubenstein (American University, Washington).

*Patrick French was unable to attend but we were delighted that the author, Margaret Drabble, a close friend and colleague of Lessing, was able to attend in his place. 


Nicola Solomon (Doris Lessing Literary Trustee and Chief Executive of the Society of Authors)

Ann Evans (Doris Lessing Literary Trustee and Literary Agent, Jonathan Clowes Ltd)

Conference Organisers:

Dr. Matthew Taunton (UEA)

Dr. Nonia Williams (UEA)