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November 20: Nadine Gordimer

November 20, 2013

nadine-gordimerSouth African novelist Nadine Gordimer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991 and a member of the African National Congress when it was banned under apartheid rule, was born in Springs, Transvaal on this date in 1923. Her first book, a short story collection, The Soft Voice of the Serpent, was published in 1952, and her first published novel, The Lying Days, was published the following year. “Both,” writes the Encyclopedia Brittanica, “exhibit the clear, controlled, and unsentimental technique that became her hallmark. Her stories concern the devastating effects of apartheid on the lives of South Africans — the constant tension between personal isolation and the commitment to social justice, the numbness caused by the unwillingness to accept apartheid, the inability to change it, and the refusal of exile.” Gordimer has since written thirteen novels as well as numerous collections of short stories and essays, several of which were “banned” by the apartheid government. Following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, Gordimer became active in anti-apartheid politics and close with Nelson Mandela, a relationship that lasted throughout his imprisonment, liberation, and retirement. She has also worked against censorship and was a vice-president of International PEN (her works have been translated into thirty-one languages). In post-apartheid South Africa, Gordimer has been active in the HIV/AIDS movement, which has led her in some instances to be critical of the ANC-led South African government. She has also publicly opposed Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people, although she rejects the equating of Zionism with apartheid. To see her briefly discussing racism in South Africa, look below.

“Responsibility is what awaits outside the Eden of Creativity.”—Nadine Gordimer