Nadine Gordimer, South African author, dies at 90

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Media caption,

Will Gompertz looks back at Nadine Gordimer's life and works

South African Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer has died in Johannesburg aged 90.

The writer, who was one of the literary world's most powerful voices against apartheid - died at her home after a short illness, her family said.

She wrote more than 30 books, including the novels My Son's Story, Burger's Daughter and July's People.

She jointly won 1974's Booker Prize for The Conservationist and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1991.

'She cared most deeply'

The Nobel committee said at the time it was honouring Gordimer for her "magnificent epic writing" which had been "of very great benefit to humanity".

Fellow acclaimed South African author JM Coetzee, whose novels often focused on their country post-apartheid, said Gordimer "responded with exemplary courage and creative energy to the great challenge of her times, the system of apartheid unjustly imposed and heartlessly implemented on the South African people".

He told the BBC: "Looking to the great realist novelists of the 19th Century as models, she produced a body of work in which the South Africa of the late 20th Century is indelibly recorded for all time."

The daughter of a Lithuanian Jewish watchmaker, Gordimer began writing from an early age. She published her first story - Come Again Tomorrow - in a Johannesburg magazine at just 15.

Her works comprised both novels and short stories where the consequences of apartheid, exile and alienation were the major themes.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Nadine Gordimer and Nelson Mandela were close friends

Gordimer's family said she "cared most deeply about South Africa, its culture, its people, and its ongoing struggle to realise its new democracy".

Committed to fighting apartheid, the author was a leading member of the African National Congress (ANC) and fought for the release of Nelson Mandela.

Media caption,

Nadine Gordimer was interviewed by the BBC in 2011

They went on to become firm friends and she edited Mandela's famous I Am Prepared To Die speech, which he gave as a defendant during his 1962 trial.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation paid tribute to Gordimer, saying it was "deeply saddened at the loss of South Africa's grande dame of literature".

"We have lost a great writer, a patriot and strong voice for equality and democracy in the world," it added.

A number of Gordimer's books were banned by the South African government under the apartheid regime including 1966's The Late Bourgeois World and 1979's Burger's Daughter.

Her last novel, No Time Like the Present, published in 2012, follows veterans of the battle against apartheid as they deal with the issues facing modern South Africa.

Despite her hatred of apartheid, the author was proud of her heritage and said she only considered emigrating once - to nearby Zambia.

"Then I discovered the truth, which was that in Zambia I was regarded by black friends as a European, a stranger," she said.

"It is only here that I can be what I am: a white African."

Image caption,
The author featured on the 1981 BBC series Writers And Places, narrated by authors about places which are important in their work and lives. Gordimer's film focussed on Johannesburg

In her later years, Gordimer became a vocal campaigner in the HIV/Aids movement, lobbying and fund-raising on behalf of the Treatment Action Campaign, a group pushing for the South African Government to provide free, life-saving drugs to sufferers.

She was also critical of South African President Jacob Zuma, expressing her opposition to a proposed law which would limit the publication of information deemed sensitive by the government.

"The reintroduction of censorship is unthinkable when you think how people suffered to get rid of censorship in all its forms," she said in an interview last month.

The ANC said it sent its "heartfelt condolences" to Gordimer's family.

"Our country has lost an unmatched literary giant whose life's work was our mirror and an unending quest for humanity," it said.

Paying tribute on Twitter, Canadian author and fellow Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood said: "Very sorry to hear that Nadine Gordimer has died. One of the greats, and a fearless spokesperson for human rights."

Gordimer's family said a private memorial service would be announced at a later date.

She is survived by two children.