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Alfred Nobel said of Gordimer’s ‘magnificent epic writing’ that it ‘has been of great benefit to humanity’.
When she was growing up in a middle-class white family in a small mining town near Johannesburg, Nadine Gordimer witnessed first-hand the injustices of South Africa’s apartheid system, and used these and her later experiences as a springboard and inspiration for the many novels and short stories she wrote in her long lifetime.
Her father was a Jew from Lithuania, her anti-apartheid activist mother from England, and the young Nadine became a vehement opponent of the then-government and joined the banned African National Congress.
Unlike many of her contemporaries who chose exile, Gordimer chose to stay in Johannesburg, where she lived most of her life, although she travelled extensively, and taught and lectured around the world.
Her work reflected her own experience of South Africa’s brutal apartheid system, as well as the deep love she had for her country. It often explored the difficulties and heartbreak of love across the colour line. Although her stories and novels were banned by the repressive apartheid regime, they were widely published and read abroad. In 1974, her novel The Conservationist was joint winner of the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction.
Her short stories formed a major part of her work and her first story, A Watcher of the Dead, was published by The New Yorker in 1951. She continued to write short stories all her life, which included her collections Loot (2003) and Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black (2007).
Her work was published in 40 languages and she was awarded 15 honorary degrees worldwide (although she herself never completed undergraduate studies). Her numerous illustrious awards included the French Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.
After South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, Gordimer was active in the HIV/AIDS movement, and in 2004 she motivated 20 major writers to contribute short stories for Telling Tales, a book to raise funds for South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign, which campaigns for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Her 2012 novel, No Time Like the Present, reflected the experiences of a 'mixed' married couple attempting to come to terms with life in a confusing, contemporary South Africa.