Born Doris May Taylor in Khermanshah, in what is now Iran, on October 22, 1919, Lessing spent her youth on a farm in Southern Rhodesia, what is now Zimbabwe.
Lessing said her upbringing in Rhodesia, where her British parents had moved in 1927, was “hellishly lonely”.
In 1939, she married Frank Wisdom, by whom she had two children before their divorce in 1943.
She later married Gottfried Lessing, a German political activist, but divorced again in 1949.
Soon afterwards, she moved to Britain with her young son and the manuscript of The Grass Is Singing, her first novel. It was published a year later to critical acclaim.
Lessing was a member of the British Communist Party, but resigned in 1956 at the time of the Hungarian revolution.
Her Children of Violence novels, published between 1952 and 1969, established her credentials as a feminist, although she rejected the label.
“I wasn’t an active feminist in the 1960s, never have been,” she has since insisted. “I never liked the movement because it’s too ideologically based. All sorts of claims were made for me that simply weren’t true.”
Lessing, an outspoken critic of corruption by African governments, was barred entry to South Africa in 1956, but was able to revisit in 1995, after the fall of apartheid.
She has also written several works of science fiction in recent years.
Lessing will receive a gold medal, a diploma and 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.53m) from the Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10.