Doris Lessing comes to town

Roger Ebert carted around Studs Terkel and Doris Lessing in 1969 – that would have been a blast, I’m assuming.

A flutter of memories

Sinking into an overstuffed chair in Studs Terkel’s apartment with her legs curled beneath her, Doris Lessing looked small, vulnerable (and in the best sense) catlike. It was Sunday afternoon and she was sipping brandy and listening to stories about Studs’ trip to South Africa. And you thought: So this, after all, is Doris Lessing. And the next moment you thought: Of course.

Doris Lessing is the sort of novelist the Village Voice is inspired to describe as a “cult author.” That is completely wrong, but it proves a lead. For 20 years, and especially since the publication of “The Golden Notebook” in 1962. Ms. Lessing has given voice to a postwar generation which has reopened questions of politics, sexuality and personal identity.

Out of some misguided sense of modesty, I suppressed an element in this story. When Studs gave Doris Lessing the tour of Chicago, I was the driver. That was because Studs, the quintessential city-dweller, had never learned to drive, and wanted me to drive them around. For three days, Studs showed Chicago to Lessing, and to me.

This was one of the great experiences of my life. We saw the hotel at Grand and Wells which Studs’ mother managed, and where he was raised. And the Biograph Theater, where John Dillinger was shot. And one afternoon we drove through Washington Park.

“Stop here!” Studs said. “You see that tree over there? That’s where Studs Lonigan kissed Lucy Scanlon. That’s where I got my nickname — from ‘Studs Lonigan,’ the Chicago novel by James T. Farrell.”

We got out of the car and walked into the park.

“This is where he kissed her, all those years ago,” Studs said.

(click to continue reading Doris Lessing comes to town :: :: People.)


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