Nadine Gordimer, iconic South African writer, activist and 1991 Nobel Laureate for Literature, was born in 1923 to an English mother and a Latvian father, both Jewish immigrants. Her writings reflect her preoccupation with moral issues, with particular emphasis on the injustice of apartheid. During the apartheid years, Gordimer’s books were a cause of great discomfort to the then white-supremacist South African regime. Several of her books were consequently banned repeatedly in South Africa, even in the post apartheid era.
Gordimer’s mother was acutely aware of the discrimination against the abjectly poor blacks. During apartheid, she decided to do her bit by founding a crèche for their children. Gordimer’s own highly developed sense of justice, belief in the right to equality and her bent toward activism may have been seeded by her mother’s sensibilities.
As a child, Gordimer was largely home-bound due to her mother’s mistaken belief that she had a weak heart. Perhaps out of loneliness, she began writing at a young age, and had her first stories published at the age of 15. The New Yorker’s acceptance in 1951, of her story A Watcher of the Dead was the start of an abiding and fruitful relationship between the writer and the publication. The New Yorker was also her window to the rest of the world, by which her work gained visibility and an international audience.
Her crusade against apartheid was spurred by the arrest of her best friend, Bettie du Toit and the Sharpeville Massacre, which also saw international condemnation and isolation of the regime in South Africa. Gordimer joined the African National Congress during the days it was listed as an illegal organisation by the regime, and even hid its leaders in her home to help them evade arrest. When Nelson Mandela emerged from his long imprisonment, Nadine Gordimer was one of the first persons he wanted to see.
Not restricting her activism to anti-apartheid, she resisted all forms of repression of freedom of expression and censorship. Her refutation of discrimination was so strong that she rejected her short-listing for the 1998 Orange Prize for only recognising women writers. She is currently involved in South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign, which raises funds for HIV/AIDS prevention and care.
Apart from the Nobel Prize for literature, Nadine Gordimer’s work has been widely honoured and awarded with the W. H. Smith Commonwealth Literary Award (England, 1961), the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (England, 1972), the Booker Prize for The Conservationist (1974), the CNA Prize (Central News Agency Literary Award), South Africa (1974, 1975, 1980, 1991) and the Grand Aigle d'Or (France, 1975), to name just a few. Her opus includes novels, short stories, essays, non-fiction writing, a play, etc. Nadine Gordimer also edited an anthology of short stories, Telling Tales, as a fundraiser for South Africa's HIV/AIDS Treatment Action Campaign.
Novels by Nadine Gordimer:
- The Lying Days (1953)
- A World of Strangers (1958)
- Occasion for Loving (1963)
- The Late Bourgeois World (1966)
- A Guest of Honour (1970)
- The Conservationist (1974) - Joint winner of the Booker prize in 1974
- Burger's Daughter (1979)
- July's People (1981)
- A Sport of Nature (1987)
- My Son's Story (1990)
- None to Accompany Me (1994)
- The House Gun (1998)
- The Pickup (2001)
- Get a Life (2005)
Image source: The Nobel Foundation