essayist, screenwriter, political activist and champion
of the disenfranchised, Nadine Gordimer was born of
immigrant Jewish parents in Springs - a small
gold-mining town in South Africa. In Seamus Heaney's
words, she is one of "the guerrillas of the
imagination," and became the first South African and the
seventh woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 1991.
Her father, a jeweller, came from Lithuania (then in Russia), her mother, from England. Nadine Gordimer began to write at the age of nine and her first short story was published in a South African magazine when she was only fifteen. After being educated at the 'Convent of Our Lady of Mercy', she studied at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, for one year.
Her first collection of short stories, 'Face to Face', was published seven years later in 1949. Her first novel, 'The Lying Days', appeared in 1953. Over half a century, Gordimer has written thirteen novels, over two hundred short stories, and several volumes of essays. Ten books are devoted to her works, and about two hundred critical essays appear in her bibliography.
Gordimer endured the bleak Apartheid decades, refusing to move abroad as so many others did. Her husband, Reinhold Cassirer, is a refugee from Nazi Germany, who served in the British Army in World War II. Her daughter settled in France, her son in New York. She remained inside South Africa out of commitment to black liberation - to be the voice for silenced, black South African writers and also for the sake of her own creativity.
She eventually rose to international fame for novels and short stories that stunned the literary world, and resulted in some of her books being banned in her native country. She painted a social background subtler than anything presented by political scientists, thus providing an insight into the roots of the struggle and the mechanisms of change that no historian could have matched. Her work reflects the road from passivity and blindness to resistance and struggle, the forbidden friendships, the censored soul, and the underground networks. She has outlined a free zone where it was possible to try out, in imagination, what life beyond Apartheid might be like. She wrote as if censorship did not exist and as if there were readers willing to listen. In her characters, the major currents of contemporary history intersect.
In addition to her novels, collections of short stories and essays, Gordimerís credits include screenplays for television dramas and the script for the film "Frontiers". She won the Booker Prize in 1974 for 'The Conservationist' and in 1991, the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Her other awards include fifteen honorary doctorates, Vice President of International P.E.N., Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), Executive Member - Congress of South African Writers, 11 literary awards and 14 honorary degrees. Her works have been translated into more than thirty languages. Her most recent novel, "The Pickup", published in 2001, was long listed for the Booker Prize and won the best book category for the 2002 Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the Africa region.
Nadine Gordimer put the searchlight on a country that had painfully evolved from an oppressive racist state into a model of democracy. But beyond that, she is the writer that most stubbornly has kept the true face of racism in front of us, in all its human complexities.
Copyright © zar.co.za January 2007