Friday, November 19, 2010

In History: Nadine Gordimer

This is the 52nd post in a weekly feature here at Spare Candy, called "In History." Some posts might be little more than a photo, others full on features. If you have any suggestions for a person or event that should be featured, or would like to submit a guest post or cross post, e-mail me at rosiered23 (at) sparecandy (dot) com.

Nadine Gordimer, born Nov. 20, 1923, outside Johannesburg, is a Jewish South African writer, political activist and Nobel laureate. Her writing deals 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. She has recently been active in HIV/AIDS causes.

Gordimer started writing when she was young; she published her first story when she was 15 years old. Many of her short stories were published in various magazines in South Africa, and eventually she developed a relationship with New Yorker magazine, where a number of her stories have appeared. Her first novel, "The Lying Days," was published in 1953.

In 1906, the arrest of Gordimer's best friend, Bettie du Toit, and the Sharpeville massacre spurred her entry into the anti-apartheid movement. She quickly became active in South African politics, and was close friends with Nelson Mandela's defense attorneys (Bram Fischer and George Bizos) during his 1962 trial. When Mandela was released from prison in 1990, Gordimer was one of the first people he wanted to see.

The South African government banned several of Gordimer's works, two for lengthy periods of time. "The Late Bourgeois World" was Gordimer's first personal experience with censorship; it was banned in 1976 for a decade by the South African government. "A World of Strangers was banned for 12 years. Other works were censored for lesser amounts of time. "July's People" was also banned under apartheid, and faced censorship under the post-apartheid government as well: In 2001, a provincial education department temporarily removed "July's People" from the school reading list, along with works by other anti-apartheid writers, describing "July's People" as "deeply racist, superior and patronizing" -- a characterization that Gordimer took as an insult, and that many literary and political figures protested.

Gordimer joined the African National Congress when it was still listed as an illegal organization by the South African government. She saw the ANC as the best hope for reversing South Africa's treatment of black citizens. She hid ANC leaders in her own home to aid their escape from arrest by the government. Gordimer regularly took part in anti-apartheid demonstrations in South Africa, and traveled internationally speaking out against South African apartheid and discrimination and political repression.

Her works began achieving literary recognition early in her career, with her first international recognition in 1961, followed by numerous literary awards throughout the ensuing decades. Literary recognition for her accomplishments culminated with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, which noted that Gordimer "through her magnificent epic writing has -- in the words of Alfred Nobel -- been of very great benefit to humanity".

Gordimer's activism has not been limited to the struggle against apartheid. She has 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. Gordimer also served on the steering committee of South Africa's Anti-Censorship Action Group. A founding member of the Congress of South African Writers, Gordimer has also been active in South African letters and international literary organizations. She has been Vice President of International PEN.

In the post-apartheid 1990s and 21st century, Gordimer has been active in the HIV/AIDS movement. In 2004, she organized about 20 major writers to contribute short fiction for "Telling Tales," a fundraising book for South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign, which lobbies for government funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and care.

Gordimer, whose latest book came out in 2005, has received many awards in her career:

* W. H. Smith Commonwealth Literary Award (England) (1961)
* James Tait Black Memorial Prize (Scotland) (1972)
* Booker Prize for The Conservationist (1974)
* CNA Prize (Central News Agency Literary Award), South Africa (1974, 1975, 1980, 1991)
* Grand Aigle d'Or (France) (1975)
* Orange Prize shortlisting; she rejected
* Scottish Arts Council Neil M. Gunn Fellowship (1981)
* Modern Language Association Award (United States) (1982)
* Bennett Award (United States) (1987)
* Premio Malaparte (Italy) (1985)
* Nelly Sachs Prize (Germany) (1986)
* Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (1988, A Sport of Nature)
* Nobel Prize for Literature (1991)
* Laureate of the International Botev Prize (1996)
* Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the Best Book from Africa (2002; for The Pickup)
* Booker Prize longlist (2001; for The Pickup)
* Legion of Honour (France) (2007)[35]
* Hon. Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
* Hon. Member, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
* Fellow, Royal Society of Literature (Britain)
* Patron, Congress of South African Writers
* Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France)
* At least 15 honorary degrees (the first being Doctor Honoris Causa at Leuven University in Belgium)

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