Nadine Gordimer Biography

Nadine Gordimer has been accused of fabricating parts of her 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.

Facts and Trivia

  • Gordimer was born in a mining town outside of Johannesburg. Her father was a Jewish watchmaker who had immigrated from what is now Lithuania. Her mother was English.
  • 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 wrote for the New Yorker for many years.
  • 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.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2010

Article abstract: Through her writings, Gordimer has illuminated the troubled history of South Africa with unparalleled clarity, sensitivity, honesty, and art.

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Early Life

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 life.”

Not only was Gordimer’s environment strange but also her childhood was unusual. Between ages eleven and sixteen she was kept out of school and from participation in normal activities by her mother, who became convinced that Gordimer had a serious heart condition, a condition that Gordimer subsequently learned was a very minor ailment. Although she was sent to a tutor for three hours a day, her contacts with others her own age were severed. Her sister went away to the university which left Gordimer as constant companion of her parents, particularly of her mother, who took Gordimer with her everywhere. Socializing only with adults in a world of tea parties and trivia, Gordimer became, as she...

(The entire section contains 2010 words.)

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