Born in present-day Iran to British nationals, Lessing became involved in the 1940's leftist literature scene in South Africa before leaving her family to pursue her writing career in London. Her life's work, which explored issues of class, feminism and spirituality, included over 15 novels and a number of plays, short stories, and memoirs.
On winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007, she remarked to reporters, "I'm 88 years old and they can't give the Nobel to someone who's dead, so I think they were probably thinking they'd probably better give it to me now before I've popped off."
In n interview with the New York Times in 1982, she explained why she bristled at being known as a "feminist" author:
What the feminists want of me is something they haven't examined because it comes from religion. They want me to bear witness. What they would really like me to say is, 'Ha, sisters, I stand with you side by side in your struggle toward the golden dawn where all those beastly men are no more.' Do they really want people to make oversimplified statements about men and women? In fact, they do. I've come with great regret to this conclusion.
For Lessing however, the complexities of the ever-changing world proved endlessly fascinating, and when awarding her the Nobel Prize, the Swedish Academy described her as "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny".
She died in her sleep at her home in North London.