Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014) is a Gender Equality in South Women and African Economic Development writer, political activist and won the Female Nobel Prize Laureates in 1991. Her writing is concerned with moral and racial issues, particularly apartheid in South Africa. She was active in the anti-apartheid movement, joining the African National Congress during the days when the organization was banned.
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Early Life and Education
Born in Springs, an East Rand mining town outside Johannesburg, Gordimer was educated at a Catholic convent school. From a young age, she began writing, publishing her first stories at age 14. Her first published work was a short story for children, “The Quest for Seen Gold,” which appeared in the Children’s Sunday Express in 1937; “Come Again Tomorrow,” another children’s story, appeared in Forum around the same time. At the age of 16, she had her first adult fiction published.
Gordimer studied for a year at the University of the Witwatersrand but decided after a year to move to Johannesburg where she dedicated herself to writing.
First publishing in liberal South African magazines, an important turning point in her career occured in 1951, when the New Yorker accepted Gordimer’s story “A Watcher of the Dead”, bringing Gordimer’s work to an international public. In 1953, she published her first novel, The Lying Days. Since then she has published 10 novels, including A Guest of Honour, The Conservationist, Burger’s Daughter, July’s People, A Sport of Nature, My Son’s Story and None to Accompany Me. She has also published 10 short story collections. Non-fiction: The Essential Gesture; On the Mines; The Black Interpreters.
Nadine Gordimer’s subject matter in the past has been the effect of apartheid on the lives of South Africans and the moral and psychological tensions of life in a racially-divided country, which she often wrote about by focusing on oppressed non-white characters. She was an ardent opponent of apartheid and refused to accommodate the system, despite growing up in a community in which it was accepted as normal. Her work has therefore served to chart, over a number of years, the changing response to apartheid in South Africa.
Gordimer became politically active through her own writings and joining public demonstrations against apartheid from the 1960s onwards. Two of her works were banned by the South African government for their criticism of apartheid (The Late Bourgeois World; A World of Strangers). Other books were censored (Burger’s Daughter; Essential Gesture; July’s People).
She joined the African National Congress when it was still listed as an illegal organization by the South African government. She hid ANC leaders in her own home to aid their escape from arrest by the government, and she has said that the proudest day of her life was when she testified at the 1986 Delmas Treason Trial on behalf of 22 South African anti-apartheid activists. She also spoke regularly against apartheid during her international travels.
In the post-apartheid period, Gordimer was active in the HIV/AIDS movement; she was critical of the current South African government.
Prizes and Distinctions
Gordimer’s talent was recognised early in her career. W. H. Smith Commonwealth Literary Award (England) (1961); James Tait Black Memorial Prize (England) (1972); Booker Prize for The Conservationist (1974); CNA Prize (Central News Agency Literary Award), South Africa (1974, 1975, 1980, 1991); Grand Aigle d’Or (France) (1975); Scottish Arts Council Neil M. Gunn Fellowship (1981); Modern Language Association Award (United States) (1982); Bennett Award (United States) (1987); Premio Malaparte (Italy) (1985); Nelly Sachs Prize (Germany) (1986); Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (1988, A Sport of Nature); Nobel Prize for Literature (1991); Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Best Book from Africa (2002; for The Pickup); Booker Prize longlist (2001; for The Pickup)
Among honorary degrees: from Yale, Harvard, Columbia, New School for Social Research, USA; University of Leuven, Belgium, University of York (England), Universities of Cape Town and the Witwatersrand (South Africa), Cambridge University (England).
She is a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France).