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Nadine Gordimer Honoured on Her 90th Birthday

Nadine Gordimer

Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer turned 90 on 20 November and was celebrated last night in Braamfontein, with Hugh Masekela singing for her and George Bizos paying tribute to her in a speech.

No Time Like the PresentTelling TimesLife TimesA Guest of HonourA World of StrangersThe Conservationist

The Mail & Guardian compiled three articles on her work to mark the occasion. Jane Rosenthal looks back at the reception of Gordimer’s early works by white South Africans, writing that she thinks “Gordimer was, and for many still is, too sharp for them” and that, “For the average white South African reader, Gordimer’s portrayal of white characters was too close to the bone and often very unattractive.”

She reflects on reading July’s People when it first came out in 1981 and shares her thoughts on Gordimer’s latest, No Time Like the Present. Rosenthal concludes that “we have to thank her for this extraordinary body of work, beautiful, serious, eminently re-readable”.

‘Can you play the harpsichord?” and the response: “I don’t know, I haven’t tried”, is what came to mind, not entirely irrationally, when I sat down to write a piece on reading and reviewing Nadine Gordimer. Despite many years as a reader and reviewer, this seemed a formidable task. So, with that in mind and well aware that this is academic territory, I determined nevertheless to approach this as I usually do a review, for the “common reader” of South Africa. (And the “common reader”, for those unfamiliar with Virginia Woolf’s definition, is one who “reads for [her] his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others …”)

Karen Lazar relfects on Gordimer’s short stories, where she feels that “Gordimer’s pen is at its most lucid, establishing this often-underrated text form as a handsome, disciplined and far-reaching genre in its own right”.

Many readers are better acquainted, and more comfortable, with Nadine Gordimer’s short stories than with her novels, preferring the short ­fiction’s less elaborate, more concentrated aspect.

In the short stories Gordimer’s pen is at its most lucid, establishing this often-underrated text form as a handsome, disciplined and far-reaching genre in its own right. I once asked her how she knows whether the germ of a narrative will grow into a novel or a short story, and she replied: “I just know.”

Craig MacKenzie discusses how Gordimer’s work has reflected current events throughout the years and says that her writing career is so fascinating because “not only has it been long and illustrious, it has also been one that has astutely and creatively interpreted the rapidly changing tenor of our times and turned this into the absorbing stuff of fiction”.

During a panel discussion that I was trying to conduct with Nadine Gordimer and Mongane Serote at the 2012 M&G Literary Festival, I was distracted by a comment Gordimer made towards the end. I had just remarked that at the end of her most recent novel, No Time Like the Present (2012), one of her central characters, after lengthy deliberation, ultimately decides not to emigrate to Australia after all, but to remain in South Africa. I asked her about the significance of this, and, half under her breath (I’m not sure that the audience caught it), Gordimer muttered something like: “Well, he would have gone had I been writing the novel now.”

Karina Magdalena Szczurek, whose doctoral thesis was on Gordimer’s writing in post-apartheid South Africa, wrote a tribute to the author for Daily News. Szczurek celebrates Gordimer’s writing and activism, saying that she “is often the first to take up a cause and fight with any means available to her”. She also credits Gordimer with sparking her passion for South African literature, with her short story “The Moment Before the Gun Went Off”.

Having celebrated her 90th birthday last week, Nadine Gordimer can look back on an illustrious career spanning nearly eight decades. Recognised with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, she has been influential in shaping the literary landscape.

With her writing and activism she has brought worldwide attention to the horrors of apartheid. But she is wrongly considered a political writer.

Victor Dlamini and David Smith attended the celebration for Gordimer that was held last night and tweeted from the event:

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