South African novelist and short-story writer, an outspoken critic of apartheid. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.
Gordimer was born in the mining town of Springs, Transvaal, the daughter of Jewish immigrants from London and Latvia. The contrast between her own privileged background – her father was a wealthy jeweller – and the conditions of the black mine workers stirred her political conscience at an early age. Largely self-educated, she began writing at the age of eleven, when her parents removed her from school after she was diagnosed as having a weak heart; her first short story was published when she was fifteen. She later briefly attended the University of Witwatersrand.
Gordimer published her first mature works, the stories in The Soft Voice of the Serpent and the novel The Lying Days, in 1953. Like later work, these writings deal with the corrupting effect of the apartheid system on the privileged and the oppressed alike. Novels of the 1960s and 1970s included A Guest of Honour (1970), the Booker-prize-winning The Conservationist (1974), and Burger's Daughter (1979), a story of communist activists that was banned in South Africa. Subsequent works included the novella July's People (1981), set in a war-torn South Africa of the near future, and My Son's Story (1990). Gordimer is also a prolific and much admired writer of short stories.
Although a committed advocate of black majority rule (and member of the ANC), Gordimer eschews overt polemic, treating characters from all parts of the political spectrum with the same mixture of sympathy and severity. A recurring theme is the predicament of the white liberal, caught between the claims of political commitment on the one hand and a sense of personal impotence on the other. Gordimer's integrity has made her one of the most universally respected figures in South Africa: the award of the Nobel Prize was welcomed by both the government of de Klerk and the ANC leadership. Since the ending of the apartheid system she has published None to Accompany Me (1994) and The House Gun (1997), both of which explore the profound transitions taking place in South African society.