15 July 2014

Nadine Gordimer – a life celebrated in words

Nobel laureate and political activist Nadine Gordimer has died at the age of 90. Gordimer used her formidable talent as a writer to shine a light on prejudice in South Africa.

For me, being a writer is a voyage of discovery, it’s being alive. You are questioning, and you are moving on to discover what the real meaning of life is. – Nadine Gordimer

Much-loved South African author and political activist Nadine Gordimer passed away at her home in Johannesburg on Sunday 13 July 2014.

A statement issued by her family read, ‘She was 90 years old, and will be lovingly remembered by her family, friends and literary colleagues.’ She was with family and her helpers when she passed away.

Born in the mining town of Springs near Johannesburg in 1923, she wrote 15 novels as well as short stories, non-fiction and other works. Her books and writings were published in 40 languages around the world.

Her writing illustrated the hardships of living life under the apartheid system, and prejudice and racism inspired her many works that mirrored South Africa's society over the years. A number of her books were banned during apartheid. 

She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.

Gordimer was described by those in literary circles as ‘the conscience of South African literature’. Some of her best-known works include: The Lying Days (her first novel); The Late Bourgeois World; A Guest of Honour; Burger’s Daughter; July's People; and Jump (a collection of short stories).

‘She cared most deeply about South Africa, its culture, its people, and its ongoing struggle to realise its new democracy. Her proudest days were not only when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, but also when she testified at the Delmas Trial in 1986, to contribute to saving the lives of 22 ANC members, all of them accused of treason,’ said her family’s statement.

Victor Dlamini, a local writer and photographer, in an entry titled, ‘Nadine Gordimer’s shining literary voice', says: ‘Gordimer relished language. Her fiction and non-fiction alike rewards the reader with passages of exquisitely written prose. She used language as a surgeon uses a scalpel, delicately opening her characters to reveal what contradictions they contained.'

In a wonderful interview with Adrian Steirn, who produced the 21 Icons South Africa project (film and photography), Gordimer explained what it means to be a writer: ‘For me, being a writer is a voyage of discovery, it's being alive. You are questioning, and you are moving on to discover what the real meaning of life is.'