Tuesday, November 20, 2007

From the Writer's Almanac, 11-20-07

Nadine Gordimer said, "The ideal way to write is as if oneself and one's readers were already dead."

It's the birthday of the novelist Nadine Gordimer, born in Springs, South Africa (1923), who grew up in a middle-class white community near a gold mine where all the black workers were forced to live in a windowless barracks, guarded by police. She never thought about who those miners were or what their lives were like until the day she read Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle, and she began to see the similarities between the meat packers in the book and the miners in her town.

Gordimer eventually moved to the racially mixed bohemian community in Johannesburg and began writing short stories, published in collections such as Face to Face (1949) and The Soft Voice of the Serpent (1952). She watched as many of her black friends were put under surveillance and arrested for treason. She was one of the few white novelists of her generation who did not go into exile. Instead, she began to write about the South African political resistance in a series of novels, including The Late Bourgeois World (1966), The Guest of Honor (1970), and The Conservationist (1974), which won the Booker Prize. She was attacked by South Africa's government, and her books were banned for years at time. And then in 1991, a year after Nelson Mandela was released from his 28 years of imprisonment, Gordimer won the Nobel Prize in literature.

The Birthday also of Don DeLillo, who said, "My own personal preference is for fiction that is steeped in history, that takes account of ways in which our perceptions are being changed by events around us. Global events that may alter how we live in the smallest ways." His most recent novel is Falling Man (2007), about the September 11th attacks.

Don DeLillo worked at an advertising agency for three years after college, and then one day decided to quit. He later said, "I didn't quit my job to write fiction. I just didn't want to work anymore... what I wanted was... [to] look at the world.... I became a writer by living in New York and seeing and hearing and feeling all the great, amazing and dangerous things the city endlessly assembles."

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