Lessing as You've Never Seen Her Before

From Sep 13 2019 - 9 Feb 2020, UEA's Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts hosted an exhibition to commemorate the centenary of Doris Lessing. The Doris Lessing 100 exhibition showcasing the treasure trove of archival material that Lessing left to the British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW) at the University of East Anglia. Her archive includes personal letters, drawings, manuscripts and memorabilia, the largest collection of her personal material in the world.

Lessing’s official biographer Patrick French, who has privileged access to the Archive, and her literary trustees, agreed to release previously embargoed material for use exclusively in the exhibition. These letters shed new light on Lessing’s life as a writer, and provided never-before-seen insights into the inspirations and preoccupations that informed her work.

The Doris Lessing 100 exhibition introduced visitors to unfamiliar facets of a celebrated literary icon. It explored Lessing’s time as a Communist activist in Africa and includes exclusive access to the surveillance file that MI5 kept on her while she lived in London. It explored her later disavowal of Communism after witnessing conflicts in Hungary and Afghanistan, then examined her fascination with Sufi mysticism, the horrors and the promise of modern technology, and her later experimentations in science fiction.

Co-curators:

Monserrat Pis Marcos (SCVA); Justine Mann (UEA);  Matthew Taunton (UEA); Nonia Williams (UEA); Justine Ashford (Postgraduate Researcher, UEA); Paul M. Cooper (Postgraduate Researcher, UEA); Andrew Kenrick (Postgraduate Researcher, UEA)

Unboxed – Volunteering opportunity with the British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW) and the Sainsbury Centre

In 2019 we worked with a group of Faculty of Humanities students to develop creative responses to the Doris Lessing 100 exhibition and an exhibition of these at the Millennium Library in Norwich.

What was involved?

We worked with eight students to explore Doris Lessing’s archive, and interpret its contemporary significance for new audiences. Students worked with artists, writers and curators to put together a display of selected work.

The students enjoyed privileged access to the archives of some of our world renowned writers and received training in literary archive research and archive handling as well as support in blog writing and social media. Volunteers also worked with Sainsbury Centre staff to develop skills in interpretation and curation.

The work was presented within the Millennium Library and UEA Library and was the focus of the event 'Lessing in the Library' in January 2020. 

We would like to thank all of our student contributors for their incredible work which has been archived with the centenary exhibition materials.