Nadine Gordimer: South African First Literature Nobel is no Longer

Flag of South Africa
Flag of South Africa

Few countries in the world, apart from European and American (as if writing was only part of the western world) countries, can claim several Nobel prizes in literature. South Africa is one of those countries: with Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee.

The South African Nobel-prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer, one of the literary world’s most powerful voices against apartheid, died today at the age of 90. She passed away peacefully at her home in Johannesburg. She was the first winner of this prize for South Africa.

Nadine Gordimer
Nadine Gordimer

Born in Gauteng, South Africa, in 1923 to immigrant European parents, Gordimer was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1991 for novels and short stories that reflected the drama of human life and emotion in a society warped by decades of white-minority rule.

Many of her stories dealt with the themes of love, hate and friendship under the pressures of the racially segregated system that ended in 1994, when Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president.  She became active in the then banned African National Congress (ANC) after the arrest of her best friend Bettie du Toit in 1960, and the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960.  Thereafter, she was a close friends with Mandela’s defense attorneys (Bram Fischer and George Bizos) during his 1962 trial; she actually helped Mandela edit his famous speech I am prepared to die. She was one of the first people president Mandela asked to see after his release from prison in 1990.

Nadine Gordimer and President Nelson Mandela
Nadine Gordimer and President Nelson Mandela

She was called one of the great “guerrillas of the imagination” by the poet Seamus Heaney, and a “magnificent epic writer” by the Nobel committee.  Her intense, intimate prose helped expose apartheid to a global readership and continued to illuminate the brutality and beauty of her country long after the demise of the racist government.  “She makes visible the extremely complicated and utterly inhuman living conditions in the world of racial segregation,” Sture Allen, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said while awarding Ms. Gordimer the Nobel Prize for literature in 1991. “In this way, artistry and morality fuse.”

"Burger's Daughter" by Nadine Gordimer
“Burger’s Daughter” by Nadine Gordimer

She had three books banned under the apartheid regime’s censorship laws, along with an anthology of poetry by black South African writers that she collected and had published.  The first book to be banned was ‘A World of Strangers,’ the story of an apolitical Briton drifting into friendships with black South Africans in segregated Johannesburg in the 1950s.  In 1979 Burger’s Daughter was banished from the shelves for its portrayal of a woman’s attempt to establish her own identity after her father’s death in jail makes him a political hero.

I never read any of her work, and now plan to start.  Thank you to Nadine Gordimer for her brightness, and for her endless fight for freedom through her works.

One thought on “Nadine Gordimer: South African First Literature Nobel is no Longer

  1. Pingback: Who/what did we say goodbye to in Africa in 2014? | African Heritage

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