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Friday, November 20, 2015

Writing to be answerable

“The creative act is not pure. History evidences it. Sociology extracts it. The writer loses Eden, writes to be read and comes to realize that he is answerable.” – Nadine Gordimer

Nobel Prize winning writer Nadine Gordimer was born on this date in 1923 and became the first South African writer to win the world’s top writing award in 1991.  Recognized as a woman "who through her magnificent epic writing has – in the words of Alfred Nobel – been of very great benefit to humanity” she was a political and humanitarian force in South Africa for 60 years.

Active in the anti-apartheid movement, many of Gordimer's writings such as Burger's Daughter and July's People were banned.  She joined Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress during the days when that organization also was banned and was among the leading advocates for his release from prison.   She helped edit his famous trial speech “I Am Prepared To Die” and remained his close friend until his death.  She died just a few months later in 2014.

Gordimer’s first novel was published in 1953 and by the early 1960s she had gained both international acclaim and the ire of the government. 
 On several occasions she left to do visiting professorships 
in both Great Britain and the U.S. and it was while in the 
U.S. that she also became active in HIV/AIDS causes, something she further championed in her home country in her later years.  She died in 2014.

Virtually all of Gordimer's works deal with themes of love and politics, particularly concerning race in South Africa. Always questioning power relations and truth, Gordimer tells stories of ordinary people, revealing moral ambiguities and choices. Her characterization is nuanced, revealed more through the choices her characters make than through their claimed identities and beliefs. 

While Mandela hailed her willingness to stand up for what was right and just, she said the censorship she endured was life-scarring.  “Censorship is never over for those who have experienced it,” she said.  “It is a brand on the imagination that affects the individual who has suffered it, forever.”

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