Among the Lilly Library’s many notable literary manuscripts collections are the papers of South African author Nadine Gordimer. You can view the finding aid for this collection here.
Gordimer, the daughter of Jewish immigrants, was born on November 20, 1923 in the small East Rand mining town of Springs. Her mother, Hannah (“Nan”) Myers, came from London; her father, Isidore, left Latvia as a teenager to “escape pogroms and poverty.”
The Lilly Library’s Gordimer Collection contains approximately 6,800 items, dating from 1934 to 2004. The initial materials were acquired in 1993; they contain fascinating items from Gordimer’s childhood, such as her diary from 1934, which narrates the beginning of the illness that caused Gordimer’s mother to take her out of school at age 11, during which time she began to write. We have continued to add to the collection on a regular basis, most recently with a rich assemblage of twenty-five years of correspondence between Gordimer and her editors at Viking, Marshall Best, Denver Lindley, and Alan Williams.
The correspondence is noteworthy for its candor. Among other topics, Gordimer shares her thoughts on writing and authorship, describes her creative process, and discusses how it feels to have one’s book banned. In a letter dated July 15, 1966, she writes of the South African government’s ban on The Late Bourgeois World: “[T]he ban does upset me. Odd feeling to walk past a bookshop and realize that the book will never be on sale there. It’s as if a line had gone dead between other people and me; as if, to everyone but my friends, I have suddenly become invisible.”
In correspondence with Playboy editor Robie Macauley, Gordimer discusses Nelson Mandela, the current situations in Mozambique and South Africa, the unlikely prospect of retirement, and more. In her letter of December 5, 1992, she comments, “Retired, you say; but of course we writers never retire unless we go ga-ga, or when we die… All around me people in other occupations are lost in the idleness they longed for, I seem to be the only one toiling on – thank god. I just wish I could retire myself, with good conscience, from the endless obligations that distract me from that toil. But living in South Africa, at this time, makes that pretty unlikely.”
Among her many honors and awards, Gordimer won the Booker prize in 1974 for The Conservationist and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. In another letter to Macauley, dated January 24, 1994, Gordimer discusses a subsequent trip to the Nobel Prize ceremonies, describing the previous months as “fervid,” “with travels culminating in the trip with Nelson Mandela as part of his entourage at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies, and my determination to finish a novel I had worked on for nearly four years.”
Gordimer died on July 13, 2014 at the age of 90. The collection is available to view in the Lilly Library Reading Room but requires advance notice. Please contact the Public Services Department (firstname.lastname@example.org) to order material.
Cherry Williams, Curator of Manuscripts