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Heroic South African writer and activist Nadine Gordimer passes away

Kobina "Boyo" Annan, Jr.

July 15, 2014

Nadine Gordimer was a South African writer, political activist and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature.

She was recognized as a magnificent woman through her epic writing. Gordimer's writing dealt 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.

Gordimer was born near Springs, Gauteng, an East Rand mining town outside Johannesburg. Her father Isidore Gorgimer, was a watchmaker from Latvia, and her mother, Hannah Gordimer, was from London, England. Her mother was from an assimilated family of Jewish origin. Gordimer's early interest in racial and economic inequality in South Africa was shaped in part by her parents. Her father's experience as refugee in czarist Russia helped form Gordimer's political identity, but he was neither an activist nor particularly sympathetic toward the experiences of black people under apartheid. On the reverse side of the situation, her mother saw activism by her mother , whose concern about the poverty and discrimination faced by black people in South Africa led to her fondness for black children. Gordimer also witnessed government repression firsthand when she was a teenager; the police raided her family home, confiscating letters and diaries from a servant's room.

Nadine Gordimer was educated at a Catholic convent school, but was largely home-bound as a child because her mother feared she had a weak heart. Home-bound and often isolated, she began writing at an early age, and published her first stories in 1937 at the age of fifteen. 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, where she mixed for the first time with fellow professionals across the color bar. She did not complete her degree, but moved to Johannesburg in 1948, where she lived ever since. While taking classes in Johannesburg, Gordimer continued to write, publishing mostly in local South African magazines.

In 1951, the New Yorker accepted Gordimer's story "A Watcher of the Dead", beginning a long relationship, and bringing Gordimer's work to a much larger public audience. Gordimer, who said she believed the short story was the literary form for our age, continued to publish short stories in the New Yorker and other prominent literary journals.

The Lying Days, Gordimer's first novel was published in 1953. In 1954, she married Reinhold Cassier, a highly respected art dealer who established the South African Sotheby's and later ran his own gallery. Their marriage lasted until his death from emphysema in 2001. It was her second marriage and his third. Their son Hugo was born in 1955, and is today a filmmaker in New York, with whom Gordimer collaborated on at least two documentaries. Gordimer also had a daughter, Oraine by her first marriage in 1949 to Gerald Gavron, a local dentist; they were divorced within three years.

In 1960 the arrest of Gordimer's best friend Bettie du Toit, spurred her entry into the anti- apartheid movement. Thereafter, she quickly became active in South African politics, and was close friends with Nelson defense attorneys Bram Fischer and George Bizos during his 1962 trial. She also helped Mandela edit his famous speech I am Prepared To Die, given from the defendant's dock at the trial. When Mandela was released from prison in 1990, Gordimer was one of the first people he wanted to see.

During the 1960s and 1970s, she continued to live in Johannesburg although she occasionally left for short periods of time to teach at several universities in United the States. She had begun to achieve international literary recognition, receiving her first major award in 1961. Throughout this time, Gordimer continued to demand through both her writing and her activism that South Africa re- examine and replace its long held policy of apartheid.

The South African government banned several of her works for lengthy periods of time. Gordimer joined the African National Congress when it was still listed as an illegal organization by the South African government. While never loyal to any organization, Gordimer saw the ANC as the best hope for reversing South Africa's treatment of black citizens. Rather than simply criticizing the organization for its perceived flaws, she advocated joining it to address them. Throughout these years she also regularly took part in anti-apartheid demonstrations in South Africa, and traveled internationally speaking out against South African apartheid and discrimination and political repression.

Gordimer's activism was not limited to the struggle against apartheid. She resisted censorship and state control of information, and fostered the literary arts. She refused to let her work be aired by the South African Broadcasting Corporation because it was controlled by the apartheid government.

Nadine Gordimer achieved lasting international recognition for her works, and most of which dealt with political issues, as well as the moral and psychological tensions of her racially divided home country.

She passed away at the age of 90 on July 13, 2014. Her heroic efforts to bring apartheid to an end will continue to live on through all of her literary works and lectures.


Kobina "Boyo" Annan, Jr.

July 15, 2014

New York City, NY





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