Stephanie J. Urdang
Mapping My Way Home
Activism, Nostalgia, and the Downfall of Apartheid South Africa
November 30, 7-8pm
Stephanie Urdang was born in Cape Town, South Africa, into a white, Jewish family staunchly opposed to the apartheid regime. In 1967, at the age of twenty-three, no longer able to tolerate the grotesque iniquities and oppression of apartheid, she chose exile and emigrated to the United States. There she embraced feminism, met anti-apartheid and solidarity movement activists, and encountered a particularly American brand of racial injustice. Urdang also met African revolutionaries such as Amilcar Cabral, who would influence her return to Africa and her subsequent journalism. In 1974, she trekked through the liberation zones of Guinea-Bissau during its war of independence; in the 1980's, she returned repeatedly to Mozambique and saw how South Africa was fomenting a civil war aimed to destroy the newly independent country. From the vantage point of her activism in the United States, and from her travels in Africa, Urdang tracked and wrote about the slow, inexorable demise of apartheid that led to South Africa's first democratic elections, when she could finally return home.
Urdang's memoir maps out her quest for the meaning of home and for the lived reality of revolution with empathy, courage, and a keen eye for historical and geographic detail. This is a personal narrative, beautifully told, of a journey traveled by an indefatigable exile who, while yearning for home, continued to question where, as a citizen of both South Africa and the United States, she belongs. "My South Africa " she writes, on her return in 1991, after the release of Nelson Mandela, "How could I have imagined for one instant that I could return to its beauty, and not its pain?
Stephanie J. Urdang was born in Cape Town, South Africa. She is the author of two books on Africa, And Still They Dance: Women, War, and the Struggle for Change in Mozambique and Fighting Two Colonialisms: Women in Guinea-Bissau. She has worked as an anti-apartheid activist, journalist, academic writer, university lecturer, and freelance consultant, as well as gender specialist and senior advisor on HIV/AIDS for the United Nations. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey and returns regularly to South Africa. Visit her website, Stephanie J. Urdang
What a saga, both personal and political. Stephanie Urdang has lived the contradictions—the devastations and exaltations, the hard lessons—of southern African history since the 1960’s. From exile, she worked tirelessly to help defeat apartheid. From Africa, she has reported some extremely difficult stories, including life under aerial bombing by Portuguese colonial forces, and the subjection of women by progressive movements and governments. Her strength and decency and narrative gifts shine throughout this powerful memoir. —William Finnegan, The New Yorker staff writer; Pulitzer Prize winner, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
Stephanie Urdang not only had a ringside seat but was often in the ring for three of the great revolutionary upheavals of our time: the women’s movement, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the fight against colonialism elsewhere on the continent. She is wise enough to know that none of these struggles are yet fully finished, and her story of a life deeply engaged in them is moving and absorbing. —Adam Hochschild, journalist; author, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
I couldn’t put down Stephanie Urdang’s brilliant memoir of her life as a South African immigrant and her work as a conscientious observer/witness to some of Africa’s most searing revolutionary movements to free countries from oppression. I loved this instructive, inspirational, energizing page-turner, this self-portrait of a woman committed to justice that will impel readers to empathic acts of their own. —Louise DeSalvo, nonfiction writer; author, Gay Talese Award-winning memoir, Vertigo; more recently, Chasing Ghosts: A Memoir of a Father, Gone to War
I love Stephanie Urdang’s writing. She brought me right in from the first chapter. She makes nonfiction feel like the kind of fictional novel I don’t want to put down. —Ellen Friedland, documentary filmmaker, Delicious Peace
In Mapping My Way Home, Stephanie Urdang weaves together the threads of her amazing life of political activism and the struggles for self-determination in Africa with extraordinary eloquence, grace and disarming honesty. From her direct engagement in the struggle against apartheid in her native South Africa, to covering the liberation war against Portuguese colonialism in Guinea Bissau and witnessing firsthand the efforts to build a new nation in Mozambique, Urdang offers a unique and very insightful perspective on these critical processes in the continent’s history.—Alcinda Honwana, anthropologist; author, In the Time of Youth: Work, Social Change and Politics in Africa