Indebted to Nadine Gordimer
Wed 16 July 2014
ennis Walder writes of Nadine Gordimer's "support for all South African writers" (Obituary, 15 July). When I visited my birth country freely in 1991, after 26 years in exile, I already owed her a huge debt as a reader. So when the Congress of South African Writers invited me to join a weekend workshop, imagine my surprise to find her in its downtown office in Johannesburg, helping to organise the transport to our rural venue. This was the year she was awarded the Nobel prize for literature.
During a later encounter when I mentioned the novel on which I was working, she gave me this sound, long-lasting advice: "Take your time." Elsewhere she spoke of how "details make a world" and, in addressing profound questions of a writer's social responsibility, she gave us the term "witness literature" (Testament of the word, 14 June 2002). She honoured other great writers through quotation, for instance, Flaubert writing to Turgenev: "I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating its walls, threatening to undermine it." She expanded my world, our world. Hamba kahle, Nadine Gordimer.