Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer dies

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Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer dies
In this photo taken Nov. 10, 2008, South African writer and Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, delivers a speech in Calcutta, India. Gordimer is leading South African writers in speaking out against proposed laws she fears will muzzle freedom of speech in her homeland. (AP Photo/Bikas Das-File)
In this photo taken March 19, 2007 Nobel laureate for literature Nadine Gordimer, with her dog at her home in Johannesburg. Gordimer is leading South African writers in speaking out against proposed laws she fears will muzzle freedom of speech in her homeland (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File))
South African writer and Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, right, talks to Indian Minister of External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee,prior to delivering a speech in Calcutta, India, Monday, Nov. 10, 2008. Gordimer,is in India on an invitation from the public diplomacy division of the Indian ministry of external affairs. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
FILE - This is a Sunday, Nov. 26, 2006 file photo of Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer, of South Africa, as she listens to a question during a news conference on the Guadalajara International Book Fair at Guadalajara's Expo in Mexico. Gordimer died in her sleep in Johannesburg, Sunday July 13, 2014, aged 90. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias, File)
Former South African President Nelson Mandela, right, receives the Ambassador of Conscience Award from Nobel Prize winning-author Nadine Gordimer, left, at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006. Gordimer described Mandela as one of the greatest men of the 20 century and a man who through his leadership and dedication to justice and equality had put morality back into government. "Like Amnesty International, I have struggled for justice and human rights for long years," said Mandela when he accepted the award. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Nadine Gordimer, winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize for literature, holds up a copy of her new book "Jump", at her publisher's office in New York Thursday, Oct. 3, 1991. Gordimer, 67, the first woman in 25 years to win the prize, is a South African novelist whose anti-Apartheid works were once denounced by the white-minority government in her homeland. (AP Photo/Ed Bailey)
Writer Nadine Gordimer, left, and her husband, Reinhold Cassirer pose at her publisher Farrar, Strauss & Giroux’s New York office, after holding a news conference on winning the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature, Thursday, Oct. 3, 1991, New York. Gordimer, the first woman to win the prize in 25 years, is a white South African novelist whose anti-apartheid works were once denounced by the white-minority government in her homeland. (AP Photo/Ed Bailey)
1991 Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature Nadine Gordimer signs The Stockholm Memorandum during the third Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability at The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on May 18, 2011. In addition to the Nobel laureates, leading scientists and environmental research group heads were on site to draft a Stockholm Memorandum on the findings of the meeting, which will be to the United High-level Panel on Global Sustainability. The panel will draw up a report with suggestions before the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. AFP PHOTO/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - NOVEMBER 28: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE. DOUBLE RATES APPLY. COMPULSORY CREDIT: Adrian Steirn www.21Icons.com via Getty Images) In a previously unreleased portrait, 'On Her Word', Nadine Gordimer is pictured at her home on November 28, 2011 in Johannesburg, South Africa as part of photographer and filmmaker Adrian Steirn's 21 Icons South Africa Series. Inspired by Nelson Mandela, 21 Icons is a series of short films and photographic portraits documenting the stories of key figures in South Africa's recent history including Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Proceeds from the syndication of this portrait will be donated to the Phelophepa I and II health care trains. Copyright Adrian Steirn, 21 Icons. (Photo by Adrian Steirn/www.21Icons.com via Getty Images)
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JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Nadine Gordimer, a South African author who won the Nobel Prize for novels that explored the cost of racial conflict in apartheid-era South Africa, has died at the age of 90, her family said Monday.

Gordimer, who won the literature prize in 1991, three years before the end of white minority rule, died peacefully in her sleep at her home in Johannesburg on Sunday, the family said in a statement. Her son Hugo and daughter Oriane were with her at the time, it said.

Gordimer wrote 15 novels as well as several volumes of short stories, non-fiction and other works, and was published in 40 languages around the world, according to the family statement, which was released by a law firm.

"She cared most deeply about South Africa, its culture, its people, and its ongoing struggle to realize its new democracy," the family said. They said her "proudest days" included winning the Nobel prize and testifying in the 1980s on behalf of a group of anti-apartheid activists who had been accused of treason.

Gordimer was first a fiction writer. As a white South African who hated apartheid's dehumanization of blacks, she also played a political role in her country's troubled history.

During the apartheid years, she praised Nelson Mandela, the prisoner who later became president, and accepted the decision of the main anti-apartheid movement, African National Congress, to use violence against South Africa's white-led government.

"Having lived here for 65 years," she said, "I am well aware for how long black people refrained from violence. We white people are responsible for it."

Gordimer said her first "adult story," published in a literary magazine when she was 15, grew out of her reaction as a young child to watching the casual humiliation of blacks. She recalled blacks at the shops of the mining town near Johannesburg where she grew up being barred from touching clothes before buying, and police searching the maid's quarters at the Gordimer home for alcohol, which blacks were not allowed to possess.

That "began to make me think about the way we lived, and why we lived like that, and who were we," she said in a 2006 interview for the Nobel organization.

She said she resisted autobiography, asserting that journalistic research played no part in her creative process.

"Telling Times," a 2010 collection of her nonfiction writing dating to 1950, offers some glimpses of her own experience. She wrote in a 1963 essay of a meeting with a poet giving her an idea of a life beyond her small home town and her then aimless existence.

Gordimer's first novel, "The Lying Days," appeared in 1953, and she acknowledged that it had autobiographical elements. A New York Times reviewer compared it to Alan Paton's "Cry the Beloved Country," saying Gordimer's work "is the longer, the richer, intellectually the more exciting."

She won the Booker Prize in 1974 for "The Conservationist," a novel about a white South African who loses everything.

Among Gordimer's best-known novels is "Burger's Daughter," which appeared in 1979, three years after the Soweto student uprising brought the brutality of apartheid to the world's attention.

Some readers believe the family at its center is that of Bram Fischer, a lawyer who broke with his conservative Afrikaner roots to embrace socialism and fight apartheid. The story is salted with real events and names - including Fischer's. The main character is a young woman on the periphery of a famous family who must come to terms with her legacy and her homeland.

"Gordimer writes with intense immediacy about the extremely complicated personal and social relationships in her environment," the Nobel committee said on awarding the literature prize in 1991.

In her Nobel acceptance speech, Gordimer said that as a young artist, she agonized that she was cut off from "the world of ideas" by the isolation of apartheid. But she came to understand "that what we had to do to find the world was to enter our own world fully, first. We had to enter through the tragedy of our own particular place."

After the first all-race election in 1994, Gordimer wrote about the efforts of South Africa's new democracy to grapple with its racist legacy. She remained politically engaged, praising South Africa for the progress it had made, but pushing it to fulfill its hopes.

A private memorial service is expected to be announced at a later date.

'21 Icons' Profile of Author Nadine Gordimer

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