South African Writer Nadine Gordimer Dies at 90

kim kardashian

Nadine Gordimer was a prolific writer who brought to light the struggles and suffering of South Africans under apartheid. She died on Sunday at 90 years of age.

As a native of South Africa, Gordimer could not ignore the constructs of suppression that apartheid created and nourished for so many years. She exposed the cruelties and injustices of her country’s policies on racial division to the world. Her chilling stories of how South African laws formed a wall between blacks and whites, or the “color bar,” as she called it, set the wheels in motion for future change in South Africa.

Gordimer said that she did not intend to focus on apartheid in her books, but she felt it was an inevitable subject to broach once she entrenched her writing in South African daily life. She added, “I am not a political person by nature. I don’t suppose, if I had lived elsewhere, my writing would have reflected politics much, if at all.”

Gordimer wrote more than two dozen books. Her first book of stories, “Face to Face,” was published in 1949, and her first novel, “The Lying Days,” was published in 1953.

She was born to Jewish immigrant parents. Her father was a refugee from Russia, and although he helped form her political views, he was not noted as sympathetic to blacks under apartheid. Her mother, however, was an activist that was so concerned with poverty and discrimination against black South Africans that she founded a day care center for black children.

The Sharpeville Massacre was said to force Gordimer into South African politics. On March 21, 1960, between 5,000 and 7,000 black protesters gathered in front of the police station to protest South Africa’s “pass laws,” which required black South Africans to carry around passbooks whenever they left their designated living areas. Some sources claimed the crowd was peaceful, while others say they threw stones at the police. Consequently, police opened fire on the crowd and killed 69 people.

Gordimer helped Nelson Mandela edit his famous “I Am Prepared to Die” speech, and she was close friends with his defense attorneys during his 1962 trial. She was one of the first people he wanted to see upon his release from prison in 1990.

Three of her books were banned in South Africa through the 1960s and 1970s; “A World of Strangers” (1958), “The Late Bourgeois World” (1966), and “Burger’s Daughter”(1979). Widely considered a literary genius, she was known for her ability to delve into a life that was completely different than hers. Gordimer writes about an Indian Muslim family in “A Chip of Glass Ruby” (1983). In “My Son’s Story” (1990), she wrote about a mixed-race character.

In 1991, one year after Nelson Mandela’s release, Gordimer received the Nobel Peace Prize. She agreed to an autobiography, “No Cold Kitchen,” but later accused author Ronald S. Roberts of a breach of trust. It later was published by a small South African publishing house.


Author: Blaine Martin

Photo: via Guillermo Arias/AP

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