Tribute to Nadine Gordimer (1923 - 2014)

The Council of the Caine Prize for African Writing pays tribute to Nadine Gordimer, a Patron of the Caine Prize, who has died at her home in Johannesburg, aged ninety. Fellow Patron and acclaimed South African author JM Coetzee, said Gordimer, "as a writer and a human being, 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 added "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."

Gordimer wrote more than 30 books, including the novels My Son's StoryBurger's Daughter and July's People.  She was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1991.  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".

Born in South Africa, the daughter of a Lithuanian Jewish watchmaker, Gordimer began writing from an early age.  She was educated at a convent school before spending a year at Witwaterstrand University.   Her first story – “Come Again Tomorrow” – was published in a Johannesburg magazine when she was just 15.  Her works comprised both novels and short stories where the consequences of apartheid, exile and alienation were the major themes. Committed to fighting apartheid, the author was a leading member of the African National Congress (ANC) and fought for the release of Nelson Mandela.  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.

Her first novel, The Lying Days (1953), was based largely on her own life and set in her home town.  In 1974, her novel The Conservationist, was joint winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction.  Nadine Gordimer was been awarded 15 honorary degrees from universities in USA, Belgium, South Africa, and from York, Oxford and Cambridge Universities.  She was made a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and was judge of the Man Booker International Prize in 2007.  She was also a founder of the Congress of South African Writers.  She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991 and the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 2007.

Nadine Gordimer was a great supporter of the Caine prize and we are eternally grateful for her service as a patron. She set a great example for a new generation of African writers through her life and work, and her patronage was an inspiration for the shortlisted and winning authors throughout the years.  She will be sorely missed.

Nadine Gordimer died peacefully at her home in Johannesburg on 13 July 2014. She is survived by two children.

Read tributes to Nadine Gordimer by 2014 Caine Prize Judge Gillian Slovo and Patron JM Coetzee here.