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Lessing and her editors

Posted by David Mehegan  October 15, 2007 05:26 PM

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The Nobel laureate in 1962

The news about Doris Lessing winning the Nobel Prize for literature reminded me of my own encounter with the author, in a creative writing class in the spring of 1984. I was at the Globe, and took a one-semester class with Leslie Epstein's writing seminar, thinking then that I might give up the ink-stained wretch's life for a life of art. Lessing had been invited to sit in on a class and address the students. It was Friday, April 13. She seemed like a respectable librarian, and was very polite. Of course, I only remember my own question. Did she ever have an editor who was especially important to her, who helped her with her writing?

She looked at me strangely and said something to the effect of "Certainly not. You have to have confidence in what you're doing. If I ever have an editor who tries to change my writing, I simply let him know that that will not do. You have to set them straight." It was the most emphatic rejection of editing I've ever heard from an author.

After the class, Epstein, Lessing, and most of the students -- I had to get back to work at the paper, trying to set straight editors who wanted to mess with my writing -- went to lunch at a Chinese restaurant on Beacon Street, then walked over to Fenway Park to see a Red Sox game. Lessing sat in section 26, row 6, seat 4. The Sox were playing the Detroit Tigers, who won the game 9-6. Though Lessing had said she was keen to see the "match," it was a freezing day and the group bailed out after a few innings. Lessing had to get to a book signing at the BU bookstore.

How do I know it was April 13, section 26, row 6, seat 4? As it happens, there was a witness: Globe reporter Mark Muro. He wrote a story that appeared in the Living section Tuesday, April 17. I don't know if anyone tried to mess with his stuff.

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