history, research, teaching

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“Nadine’s People”

The South African author, Nobel laureate, anti-apartheid and anti-secrecy activist Nadine Gordimer has died at the age of ninety.

Novelist Thando Mgqolozana tweeted this morning, “Nadine’s People,” a play on one of her most popular novels, July’s People.


I am one of Nadine’s People.

I frequently get asked, “Why South Africa?” Why did I choose to study South Africa?

Because I read Nadine Gordimer in high school.

Somewhere, someone has my copy of July's People. Return it, please!

Somewhere, someone has my copy of July’s People. Return it, please!

I was a senior at a small town school. There were four of us in my AP English class. For our final paper, the teacher put four novels on the library table and we each chose. I just queried one of my classmates with whom I still keep in contact. She cannot remember what she chose. Maybe something Russian, she thought? But I remember my part clearly.

I picked up Nadine Gordimer’s A Sport of Nature. I’m sure I’d be embarrassed now to read the paper I wrote then. But I am not being dramatic when I say that this assignment changed my life.

It lead me to read more, first to those most available in small town, America: Olive Schreiner, Doris Lessing, Alan Paton, Mandela’s autobiography and Tutu’s treatise on reconciliation. I’d later find Sindiwe Magona, Zakes Mda, Richard Rive, Alex La Guma.

It let me to study abroad in Durban during my junior year of college, where I studied isiZulu and lived with an isiZulu-speaking family.  It lead me to graduate school, research, and teaching.

One reviewer suggested A Sport of Nature marked how Gordimer “has evolved, adapted, triumphantly come of age…”  Gordimer’s evolution, adaptation, and coming of age certainly sparked mine.


My Zulu homestay family, the Msiyas

My 2003 homestay family, the Msiyas