Nadine Gordimer—South African writer of 15 novels, 21 collections of short stories, five essay collections, and several other works—died yesterday at the age of 90. For more than 60 years, Gordimer wrote about the political, racial, medical, and societal afflictions that were plaguing her home country. She repeatedly examined the injustice of apartheid in her works and became a very vocal activist in the anti-apartheid movement. Gordimer also served as an editor of Nelson Mandela’s “I Am Prepared To Die” speech, given in 1964 at the Rivinia Trial, due to her friendship with Mandela’s lawyers.
Much of Gordimer’s writing has been banned in South Africa at one time or another; two such works, The Late Bourgeois World and A World Of Strangers, were banned for more than a decade. Two other books, Burger’s Daughter and July’s People, were also removed from school curricula for being “deeply racist, superior and patronizing,” according to the South African government. This only encouraged Gordimer in her crusade against censorship: She served on the steering committee of South Africa’s Anti-Censorship Action Group, became a founding member of the Congress of South African Writers, and was vice president of International PEN. In the post-apartheid era, Gordimer spoke out about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa, lobbied the government for prevention funding, and served as an editor on Telling Tales, a 2004 anthology whose proceeds went toward this cause.
While Gordimer’s work was rankling her own home government, it was going on to receive international acclaim. Her novel The Conservationist was a joint winner of the Booker Prize in 1974, and she received the 1991 Nobel Prize for literature for a body of work having “great benefit to humanity.” Nadine Gordimer also received critical attention for her refusal of the Orange Prize shortlisting in 1998, balking at receiving an award that is only presented to women authors.
In 2006, Ronald Suresh Roberts published his biography of Gordimer, No Cold Kitchen. Although Gordimer had initially cooperated with Roberts on the book, the two writers had a disagreement and Roberts continued with his “unauthorized” version, which Gordimer vehemently disavowed. Gordimer’s final novel, No Time Like The Present, was published in 2012, and it continued the author’s decades-long exploration of the legacy and aftermath of apartheid on South Africa.