Remembering Nadine Gordimer the 'Writers' Writer'

By Wanner, Zukiswa | New African, August-September 2014 | Go to article overview

Remembering Nadine Gordimer the 'Writers' Writer'


Wanner, Zukiswa, New African


On 13 July the world woke up to the news that Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel-prize-winning South African author, freedom fighter and anti-apartheid campaigner, had died in her Johannesburg home at the age of 90. Nadine, who penned more than 30 books, also inspired a lot of established and upcoming young South African writers, such as Zukiswa Wanner--author of Maid in South Africa: 30 Reasons to Leave Your Madam. She pays tribute.

It happened via social media, as things tend to happen these days. Twitter. That's how I first got the news that Nadine Gordimer had died. I ignored it as one of those Twitter rumours. I knew she was 90 but I hadn't heard that she was unwell. But a text message from my fellow writer and friend Thando Mgqolozana confirmed the sad news.

Nadine Gordimer was gone. His text read: "You lost your Lewis, now I've lost my Nadine." He was making a reference to the late writer from the glorious Drum era of the 1950s, Lewis Nkosi. Lewis, who gets the most blame for encouraging me to write fiction. Nadine was Thando's Lewis.

While she did not get him to first write fiction, she thought highly of his skills as a writer. Nadine believed, as many of us do, that Thando is perhaps South Africa's best-kept literary secret and when the rest of the world discover his works, the rest of the world shall slap itself silly for not having known this great talent earlier. When Lewis passed on, he had been ill and hospitalised. But there was no hint that Nadine was ill and that was part of what made it so difficult to believe that she was gone. I think despite what our logic tells us, our emotions always foolishly assume there is some sequence to death and dying. That the old will go before the young, and when that happens, the old will warn us first by being ill and going to hospital so that we can have time to say goodbye.

That isn't what happened with Nadine. There was no warning. And so it was only when I got confirmation of her demise via Thando's text that I started thinking of my and my generation's relationship with this physically small yet literary tower who I shared nationality with. Nadine, as my fellow South African writer Fiona Snyckers observed, has left her footprints in the sand of South African literature and they will never be washed away.

I first "met" Nadine through her short stories when I was 12 years old or so. I loved them. 1 thought then, and still do think, that she is one of the best short-story writers I have ever read. As Commonwealth Best First Book winner of 2011, Cynthia Jele has stated: "Achebe believed that it is impossible to write anything in Africa without some kind of commitment, a message, some protest. Nadine understood this."

More than any of her writing for me, Nadine's short stories relay this. …

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