Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Through her writings, Gordimer has illuminated the troubled history of South Africa with unparalleled clarity, sensitivity, honesty, and art.
Nadine Gordimer’s father was an impoverished watchmaker who emigrated from Lithuania to Springs, a small mining town on the East Rand about thirty miles from Johannesburg, South Africa, shortly before the Boer War. Her mother was born and grew up in London. Although both parents were Jewish, Gordimer and her only sibling, an elder sister, were sent to a local convent school run by Dominican nuns; the family had little involvement with the local Jewish community. Her father benefited from the increasing prosperity of the town and became proprietor of a jewelry store, thus securing a middle-class living for his family. Gordimer’s father had no interest in civic affairs, but her mother took an active role in the community, particularly associating with the Scots Presbyterians. In an essay recalling her childhood, Gordimer describes the strange landscape of the East Rand, the richest gold-mining region in the world. It is a bleak and eerie scene with its man-made mountains of waste material, cyanide sand hills, and smoldering coal dust dumps. The town was equally barren, causing Gordimer to observe: “We children simply took it for granted that beauty—hills, trees, buildings of elegance—was not a thing to be expected of ordinary, everyday...
(The entire section is 2013 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
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.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Nadine Gordimer grew up a rebel. Both parents were immigrants to South Africa; her mother was English, her father an Eastern European Jew. In Springs, the gold-mining town near Johannesburg where she spent her early years, Gordimer frequently played hooky from her convent school. When she did attend, she would sometimes walk out. She found it difficult to tolerate all the pressures for conformity.
In the middle-class environment in which Gordimer grew up, a girl could aspire only to marry and rear a family. After leaving school and then working at a clerical job for a few years, she would be singled out as a prospective wife by a young man who had come from a family very much like her own, and from there, within months she would actualize the greatest dreams of young womanhood: She would have her engagement party, her linen shower, and her wedding ceremony, and she would bear her first child. None of these dreams would be served by a girl’s education; books, in perhaps leading her mind astray, would interfere with the years of her preparation for the mold.
At an early age, however, Gordimer did not fit the mold—she was an avid reader. By nine, she was already writing, and at fourteen she won a writing prize. Her favorite authors were Anton Chekhov, W. Somerset Maugham, Guy de Maupassant, D. H. Lawrence, and the Americans Katherine Anne Porter, O. Henry, and Eudora Welty. As she became a young woman, she became increasingly interested in...
(The entire section is 610 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Nadine Gordimer spent her childhood in a gold-mining town near Johannesburg, South Africa. Her father, Isidore Gordimer, was a watchmaker, a Jew who had immigrated from a Baltic town to Africa when he was thirteen; her mother was born in England. In writing about her childhood, Gordimer has referred to herself as a “bolter.” She did not care for the convent school to which she was sent as a day student, and she frequently played hooky. When she did attend, she would sometimes walk out. The pressures of uniformity produced revulsion and rebellion in young Nadine. At eleven, Gordimer was kept home from school by her mother on the pretense of a heart ailment, and she received no formal schooling for about a year; for the next three to four years, she was tutored a few hours a day.
Within Gordimer’s environment, a white middle-class girl typically left school at about age fifteen and worked for a few years at a clerical job. Ideally, by her early twenties she would be found by the son of a family like her own and would then be ushered through her season of glory—the engagement party, the linen shower, the marriage, and the birth of the first child. There was no point in such a girl’s reading books; that would only impede the inevitable process by which she was readied to fit the mold.
Gordimer, however, was an early reader and an early writer. By the age of nine, she was already writing; at fourteen, she won her first writing prize. She...
(The entire section is 789 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Nadine Gordimer (GAWR-duh-mur) was born in Springs, a small gold mining town in South Africa, on November 20, 1923. Her maternal grandfather emigrated from Europe to South Africa in the 1890’s in order to prospect for diamonds. Her Lithuanian-born Jewish father, who was also a part of the white colonial expansion in the early 1900’s, started out as a watch repairer for mine workers and eventually owned a jeweler’s shop. The circumstances of Gordimer’s white middle-class upbringing provoked her understanding of the racial stratification in South African society.
One of two daughters, Gordimer had little formal education. As a very young girl, she took great pleasure in dancing until the age of ten, when she had persistent fainting spells. The condition was diagnosed as a rapid heartbeat caused by an enlarged thyroid gland. Forced to forgo dancing and participate in less strenuous activities, Gordimer recalls feeling considerably deprived during her childhood. She learned to channel her energies into reading and writing.
Gordimer had begun writing at the age of nine, and at the age of thirteen she published her first literary effort in the children’s section of a Johannesburg newspaper. Because of the medical diagnosis, her mother was able to take young Nadine out of school, an act that later caused Gordimer to resent her mother. For...
(The entire section is 1128 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
In illuminating the horror and devastation of South African politics, Nadine Gordimer’s writings are brilliant expositions of the way that human lives endure in the face of adversity. Her writing about post-apartheid South Africa continues to deal with both the personal and the political as she treats topics relevant to a country struggling to make itself anew. As Stephen Clingman writes in his introduction to a collection of her essays, Gordimer is the interpreter par excellence of her country. Significantly, Gordimer has lived in South Africa all of her life and has accumulated a lifetime of observations and experiences that help her literature present life under apartheid and after it has been replaced with majority rule. For a writer whose work is filled with political situations, Gordimer strives to represent as fully, honestly, and intelligently as possible the entire spectrum of experiences.
(The entire section is 143 words.)
IntroductionWhat does Nadine Gordimer have in common with James Frey? They have both been accused of fabricating parts of their life in order to sell books. Gordimer’s biographer, Ronald Suresh Roberts, claims that Gordimer’s essay “A South African Childhood” was not entirely autobiographical as it claimed to be. Nonetheless, Gordimer is renowned as an author and a major contributor to the anti-apartheid movement. Gordimer did grow up in South Africa and had many experiences that led to her eventual move to Johannesburg to write and work against apartheid. Many of her books were banned in South Africa, including The Late Bourgeois World, which is about her own experiences with government censorship. Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991 and continues to write and involve herself in political causes.
- Nadine Gordimer’s best friend, Bettie du Toit, was arrested in 1960. This was the catalyst for Gordimer to become so involved in anti-apartheid.
- Gordimer had a falling out with her biographer, Ronald Suresh Roberts, because of his depiction of her husband’s illness and death as well as his criticism of some of her political views.
- Gordimer began writing as a child because her mother often kept her home due to “strange reasons of her own.”
- She became close friends with Nelson Mandela and was one of the people he asked to see shortly after his 1990 release from prison.
- Gordimer testified at the 1986 Delmas treason trial and calls it the proudest day of her life.
All Resources by Category
Critical Survey of Short Fiction
My Son's Story - Literary Characters
Nadine Gordimer - Contemporary Literary Criticism (Vol. 3)
Nadine Gordimer - Contemporary Literary Criticism (Vol. 5)
Nadine Gordimer - Contemporary Literary Criticism (Vol. 7)
Nadine Gordimer - Critical Survey of Long Fiction
Nadine Gordimer - Short Story Criticism
Nadine Gordimer Criticism
Special Commissioned Entry on Nadine Gordimer
Special Commissioned Essay on The Lying Days by Nadine Gordimer
Jump - Book Review
Jump - Book Review
Loot and Other Stories - Book Review
My Son's Story - Book Review
My Son's Story - Book Review
None to Accompany Me - Book Review
None to Accompany Me - Book Review
Six Feet of the Country - Book Review
The House Gun - Book Reveiw
The House Gun - Book Review
The Pickup - Book Review
Writing and Being - Book Review
Nadine Gordimer, the second daughter of Isidore and Nan Myers Gordimer, was born in Springs, a small mining town outside Johannesburg, South Africa, on November 20, 1923. Her father was an immigrant Jewish watchmaker from Lithuania, and her mother came from a middle-class British family. When Gordimer was eleven, her parents took her out of the school system because of a minor heart condition. Lonely without her peers, she compensated by reading. In 1945, she attended the University of the Witwatersrand for a year.
On March 6, 1949, Gordimer married Gerald Gavron. They had a daughter, Oriane, a year later and divorced in 1952. Gordimer married Reinhold Cassirer, an art dealer from Germany, in 1955, and they had a son named Hugo. Gordimer also has a stepdaughter from her second marriage.
Gordimer began writing short stories in her early teens, and she continues to write short and long fiction. Her most recent work is a novel called The House Gun (1998). She is known for portraying the racial and political struggles of her homeland. Her early work criticizes apartheid, while her later work reflects the tumultuous readjustments in postapartheid South Africa. Her characters are generally members of the white middle class who change, avoid, or accept difficult situations. Gordimer often tackles controversial topics such as the interracial love depicted in 1980’s ‘‘Town and Country Lovers.’’
Gordimer has earned such...
(The entire section is 264 words.)
Nadine Gordimer was born in Springs, South Africa, a gold mining town near Johannesburg, in 1923. Her parents were Jewish emigrants from London. She began writing at age nine when a heart condition limited her activity. She credits her isolation and her powers of observation for her success as a writer—traits that were evident to her even at this early age. At the private schools she attended, she was confronted with the omnipresence of racial discrimination. Even amidst the Catholic church, blacks were not afforded any semblance of status or respect, and the young intellectual wondered why. Gordimer began publishing stories at age fifteen which were generally concerned with racism and generally published in liberal magazines. With the assistance of Afrikaner poet Uys Krige and Sydney Saterstein, her agent, she soon began to publish in major literary magazines and American literary journals like The Yale Review, Harper's, Atlantic and the New Yorker. This international recognition gained her a supportive audience during the times in which her own community sought to suppress her. Gordimer attended the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and was married to Gerald Gavronsky in 1949. The couple had one child and divorced three years later. In 1954 she married Reinhold Cassirer, the owner of an art gallery, and subsequently they had a son. In the mid-1950s when she was barely thirty years old, Gordimer had published two highly respected...
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Nadine Gordimer (GAWR-duh-mur) established herself early in her career as a talented author of both short stories and novels that sensitively and subtly portray the complexities of life for blacks and whites in South Africa. Born to Isidore Gordimer, a jeweler, and Nan Myers Gordimer, Nadine had a comfortable childhood. She was educated in private schools, and she attended the University of Witwatersrand for one year. She married Gerald Gavron in 1949 and gave birth to a daughter, Oriane; the couple divorced in 1952. In 1954, Gordimer married Reinhold Cassirer, and together they had a son, Hugo.
Although Gordimer was initially recognized as a first-rate author of short stories, she has since become an important novelist as well. Her numerous awards and honors, which reflect her international reputation, include the W. H. Smith Literary Award in 1961, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1972, the Booker Prize in 1974, the Grand Aigle d’Or in 1975, the Malaparte Prize and the Nelly Sachs Prize in 1985, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991.
Gordimer’s work has been praised for the best portrayal of black realities by a white author. In most of her work, she manages to address racial issues without being didactic. Although several of her books were originally banned by the Board of Censors in South Africa, Gordimer refused to appeal...
(The entire section is 909 words.)
Nadine Gordimer was born in Springs, South Africa on November 20, 1923 to Isidore Gordimer, an immigrant Jewish watchmaker, and Nan Myers, who had immigrated to South Africa from Great Britain as a young child. The younger of two girls, Gordimer led a solitary life growing up due to a prognosis, at the age of 10, of heart problems. As a result of her condition, Gordimer’s mother put an end to her daughter’s strenuous activities, including dancing lessons, pulled her out of the convent school she had been attending, and a hired a tutor for her for three hours a day. From the ages of 11 to 16, Gordimer had very little contact with children of her own age and spent most of her time either with her parents or alone.
Although Gordimer would later describe the severe loneliness she experienced during those years, she used her time to read and write voraciously, and at the age of 13, she published her first short story in the Johannesburg Sunday Express. By the time Gordimer was 16, she stopped being tutored entirely, and except for a year of general studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 1945, Gordimer never took another class of formal education.
In 1949, the year following the election of South Africa’s National Party—the political party that would formalize South Africa’s system of racial segregation, or apartheid—Gordimer published her first collection of short stories, Face to Face, and a few...
(The entire section is 473 words.)