I’ve just heard that Nadine Gordimer passed away. She was a global icon and a feminist, African heroine. There’s not a lot I can say here that isn’t already well documented in an unauthorised biography (which I refused to read) and online. A writer, a nobel prize winner and a political activist, she lived and worked hard.
I was lucky enough to meet her in the last 90s. She was looking for a student to catalogue her library of foreign books and somehow I was asked. I almost turned it down after the first visit. She had an enthusiastic dog called Tilly. Every time I rang the doorbell she would come bounding around from the back of the house. It was a race between us for me to get back outside the gate before she made it around the house. Sometimes I won but usually she did. I think that dog loved to torment me so. I learned that if you wanted to do certain things in life you had to push past your fears.
What I took away from those months working with her was that Ms Gordimer she treated writing like a job. She worked proper working hours with a lunch break. She didn’t wait until she was inspired. She surrounded herself with books and people who were well read. It was a writer’s lifestyle where the people around her loved what she did as much as she did. And yet, I saw her nurse her husband during his final years, look after the dog and balance the life of someone who could constantly live in two worlds. She never talked about herself or her family or friends. She was matter of fact and focused on issues outside of the individuals. She talked and wrote about life. Her fiction was about ordinary people in extraordinary situations and she didn’t live like someone who saw herself as above that. I met her personal secretary who taught me about the formulaic approach to writing and telling a story whether it be a nobel prize winner or a Mills and Boon. There was structure to writing if you chose to see it.
Eventually I finished cataloguing her foreign book library and went back to navigating the joys of university. It was years later that I recognised her impact on me as a writer. Not in style as we are from a different era and perspective. But in terms of how to write. To treat it as a job not as a hobby and, to write regularly on different subjects without being pigeon holed. It was a gift to work for her for those few months and learn from a master. Rest in Peace. You will be missed but never forgotten.
© Chelsea Black