A talented writer may hope to act as no more than a beacon – or rarely, if exceptionally gifted, produce an unexpected bolt of lightning – in the cruel but splendid labyrinth of human experience, the labyrinth of our being.
Nadine Gordimer was born in 1923 in Springs, a small mining town near Johannesburg, in South Africa's Transvaal district.
Both her parents were Jewish immigrants: her father was a Lithuanian jeweller, while her mother was of English descent.
Gordimer was educated at a Catholic convent school, and later studied for a year at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
It was here that Gordimer, having for the first time encountered the difference in the treatment of black and white students, became actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement. She came into contact with Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC). She divided her time between her political activism against apartheid and her career as a writer. Several of her books were banned in South Africa. In 1987, Gordimer was one of the founders of the Congress of South African Writers, an association whose main aim is to promote and encourage literature among the poorer communities.
The bond between Nadine Gordimer and her writing developed over a long period – when she was very young, her mother always encouraged he to read and write.
At just 15, she published her first short story, The Quest for Seen Gold, in a South African magazine. Her first collection of short stories, Face to Face, was published in 1949. Four years later, with the publication of her first novel, The Lying Days, she described the early days of the anti-apartheid movement in a small South African township.
Her writing technique became increasingly complex after the mid-1970s. In A Guest of Honour (1971), and especially in The Conservationist (1972) – which won her the “Booker Prize” in 1974 – her literary language became increasingly African in an attempt to overcome the barriers between the black population and the Afrikaners. In these novels, as in those which followed – Burger's Daughter (1979) and July's People (1981) – Nadine Gordimer described the complex social and political context as seen from the particular perspectives of her characters. In July's People, the dramatic clashes which took place in 1976 in Soweto between black students and the police remain in the background, while the central theme revolves around the Smales, a white family forced to flee their home.
Even after 1994, the year in which the ANC won the elections and Nelson Mandela was elected as President of South Africa, Gordimer did not abandon her racial themes: in The House Gun (1998), the main character was a white murderer defended by a black lawyer; in her latest novel, Get a Life (2005), her observations and reflections on the new poor in post-apartheid South Africa are intertwined with other contemporary issues, such as the need to safeguard Nature, the country's economic growth, the fight against AIDS and the complexity of human relationships.
As well as being a prolific writer of novels, Nadine Gordimer has written numerous essays and newspaper articles. Living in Hope and History, Writing and Being and The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics and Places were published in Italy as Vivere nella speranza e nella storia, Scrivere ed essere and Vivere nell’interregno.
The writer has received numerous prizes and awards for her works, including the Booker Prize (1974), the Grinzane Cavour Prize (1985 and 2006) and the Carlo Levi Prize (2002).
In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and for many years Gordimer has been Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations.
She lives and works in Johannesburg.
Net resources and links:
Feltrinelli site (Lafeltrinelli.it): fact sheets, bibliography, interviews and more about Nadine Gordimer.