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Thu Jul 28 04:53:56 SAST 2016

Nadine Gordimer dies age 90

Reuters, Sapa and Times LIVE | 14 July, 2014 15:13
Nobel Laureate speaks on the information bill
South African author and Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer during an interview. File photo.
Image by: The Times / Lauren Mulligan / Gallo Images

South African Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer, one of the literary world's most powerful voices against apartheid, has died at the age of 90, her family said.

Gordimer epitomised all that Wits University holds dear -  Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand

Wits University has learnt with deep sadness of the passing of one of its most illustrious alumni, a great South African writer, and one of the world's most esteemed literary figures, Nadine Gordimer. The University wishes to extend its sincerest condolences to her family, friends and the entire South African literary and academic community.

Gordimer was a dear friend to Wits, maintaining a lifelong connection to the University, and giving generously of her time. She often appeared on campus to participate in colloquia and alumni events. In addition, the Nadine Gordimer Lectures brought other luminaries such as Susan Sontag, Amartya Sen and Carlos Fuentes to Wits.

Gordimer studied at Wits where she mixed for the first time with fellow professionals from diverse racial, class and national backgrounds. She received an Honorary Doctorate in Literature from the University in 1984, in recognition of her immense contribution to literature and the transformation of South African society.

As a Nobel Prize-winning author, a powerful political activist, and a revered intellect, she epitomised all that Wits University holds dear. She will be greatly missed by the Wits community.

Gordimer died peacefully at her Johannesburg home on Sunday evening in the presence of her children, Hugo and Oriane, a statement from the family said.

Gordimer was born in 1923.

Her mother was from an assimilated Jewish family, and thus her upbringing was secular.

She entered the anti-Apartheid movement in the 1960s, following her friend Bettie du Toit's arrest.

In 1962 she helped edit Nelson Mandela's famous I am prepared to die speech.

Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, for a long career in literature that saw many of her books banned by the Apartheid Government.

"I used the life around me and the life around me was racist," she said in a 1990 interview.

"I would have been a writer anywhere, but in my country, writing meant confronting racism.

"She wrote as if censorship didn't exist," one critic posted on a South African website.

Her father was a jeweller and the family was financially well-off.

Weak heart

After fainting a few times around the age of 11, Nadine's mother withdrew her from school over fears of a weak heart.

It was at this time that Nadine turned to books and writing as she seldom spent any time with her peers.

She studied briefly at the University of the Witwatersrand before a short and unsuccessful marriage.

Although she never finished her degree at the University of Witwatersrand, Gordimer has lectured at a number of universities including Harvard and Princeton.

Lying days

Her distinguished literary career began in 1939 when, aged 15, she published her first short story in Forum magazine. Lying Days, her first novel, appeared in 1953 and was followed by 12 more.

She published over 200 short stories and numerous essays on literature and cultural politics -- an output matched by only a handful of living writers.

A number of her novels have been translated into 30 other languages.

Lying Days is seen by critics to represent the spirit of liberal humanism, and the idealistic hope of a multiracial future that existed in the 1950s in the early days of National Party rule.

As apartheid became entrenched, the idealism faded and The Late Bourgeois World (1969) reflected the slow death of these values.

By the 1970s Gordimer had been studying the neo-colonial critiques of radical African theoreticians such as Frantz Fanon and Nkwame Nkrumah. She incorporated their ideas into a major statement about a future South African political and economic dispensation in A Guest of Honour.

Her 1979 Burger's Daughter, based on the life of Afrikaner lawyer and convicted saboteur Bram Fischer was ranked by one critic as one of the "few truly great political novels ever written".

Her 1992 collection of short stories, titled Jump, contained a clear message of how whites had become victims of the system they enforced.

She repeatedly carried off the CNA prize for literature, and The Conservationist (1974), seen by many as her finest work, was awarded the Booker Prize.

But critics were not always unanimously enthusiastic about her work. Prof Stephen Gray once described some of her later writing as "impenetrable and undisciplined", and said My Son's Story (1990) should never have been published.

She drew criticism for her "lack of attitude to feminism in favour of the race issue".

Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo

In 1988 Gordimer caused a stir when, giving evidence in mitigation of sentence at the Delmas treason trial of UDF leaders, she told the judge she regarded Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo as her leaders.

She announced in 1990 that she had joined the African National Congress, and called for the continuation of economic sanctions against South Africa until it became a multiracial democracy.

She was one of the first people Nelson Mandela chose to meet when he was released from Robben Island prison in 1990.

In 1991, at the age of 67, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first woman to do so in 25 years.

"It is remarkable how often Nadine Gordimer succeeds in her artistic intent to burn a hole through the page," said Sture Allen of the Swedish Academy in his introduction at the presentation in Stockholm.

"Some people say I got the prize not for what I've written, but for my politics," she said afterwards.

"But I'm a writer. That's the reason for me to be alive at all, as far as I'm concerned."

Gordimer said she would use part of her R2.8 million prize money to support and encourage South African black authors through the Congress of South African Writers, which she helped found and of which she was a patron.

In the same acceptance speech Gordimer paid tribute to the exiled Salman Rushdie saying "Salman Rushdie happens to be a brilliant writer, and the novel for which he is being pilloried, The Satanic Verses, is an innovative exploration of one of the most intense experiences of being in our era".

Family life

Gordimer has 10 honorary doctorates in literature.

She married Gerald Gavron (Gavronsky), a dentist, in 1949 but was divorced three years later. According to a number of sources, the couple had a daughter in 1949, Oriane Ophelia Gavronsky.

Oriane has two children and lives in the south of France.

In 1954 Gordimer married Reinhold Cassirer, a highly respected art dealer who established the South African Sotheby's and later ran his own gallery, the Cassirer's Fine Art in Rosebank.

They had one son, Hugo, in 1955. Hugo, who now lives in New York, has collaborated with Gordimer on a number of television documentaries.

Reinhold died of emphysema in 2001 at the age 93.

When interviewed by the Telegraph in 2003, Gordimer refused to talk about her husband or how the death had affected her, other than to say they had a "wonderful marriage".

In October 2006, at the age of 82, Gordimer was attacked, robbed and locked in her Parktown home.

She handed over cash and jewellery, but would not part with her wedding ring that her second husband Cassirer had given her.

Unlike her writing peers, JM Coetzee and Andre Brink, Gordimer refused to emigrate from South Africa.

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