Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa

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De-authorising a Biography: Suresh Roberts versus Gordimer

M Lenta


After authorising Ronald Suresh Roberts to write her biography and giving him access to her papers in order to do so, Nadine Gordimer changed her mind and withdrew the authorisation, apparently because he refused to make the changes for which she asked.
The South African press made the most of this quarrel, and Gordimer was accused of
refusing to allow Suresh Roberts the freedom of speech which she has always claimed for
herself. Her de-authorisation caused the London and New York publishers who had agreed
to bring out the book to withdraw. When, more than a year later, the book appeared,
Gordimer claimed that it contained further changes and breaches of confidence. It is in fact
a biography in which the biographer's own opinions and interests are always preferred
to those of his subject, and I am concerned to ask what role this biographer plays in the
work and what is the effect of his strong and opinionated presence within it.

Current Writing Vol. 19 (1) 2007: pp. 87-102

AJOL African Journals Online