Gordimer was born in Springs, an East Rand mining town outside Johannesburg in the Transvaal region of South Africa, in 1923. Springs served as the setting of her first novel. The Lying Days (1953). Her father was a jeweler from Latvia and her mother was of British descent. Growing up, Gordimer was often sequestered indoors because her mother feared she had a weak heart. She spent some time in convent school where, she admits in an autobiographical essay "A Bolter and the Invincible Summer" (1963), she was a habitual truant.
In response to her confinement, Gordimer began writing at the age of nine. Her first published story was "The Quest for Seen Gold," which appeared in June of 1937 in the Johannesburg Sunday Express, Fortunately, she maintains, the publication of her work did not lead to the smothering that one sees with those considered "gifted." Instead she was left to her own devices and, thus, began a long career of writing about life in South Africa.
Her short stories were continually published in magazines until her first book came out in 1952. It was a collection of short stories titled The Soft Voice of the Serpent (1952). Already, her technique was evident. Her writing had clarity, little emotion, and great control.
Gordimer lived through the system of Apartheid and fought to bring about its end. She was a member of the African National Congress (which was an illegal party until the 1980s), and she chose to stay in South Africa when many other writers and political dissidents left for school or safety in Europe and America. However, she was not a prominent dissident—like Ruth First—but she was a voice of protest. "I remain," she said, "a writer, not a public speaker: nothing I say here will be as true as my fiction." Still, many of her books were banned in South Africa from 1958 until 1991.
A prolific writer, Gordimer has written many essays on politics, censorship, writing, and other writers. Much of this work parallels her fictional work and taken together she has painted a damning picture of apartheid. She was a founding member of the Congress of South African Writers. She has won numerous awards for her writing, including the Booker prize, the Modern Literature Association Award, and the Bennett Award. Many universities have honored her with degrees and the French government gave her the decoration of Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Currently, she lives in South Africa, is the Vice President of PEN (a worldwide organization of writers), a member of the Congress of South African Writers, and she continues to write.
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