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Goodnight, Nadine: A Tribute to Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer’s activism helped make the world better for all of us and leaves important lessons for teachers and students.

Not much was said last month when longtime activist, anti-apartheid author and Pulitzer Prize winner Nadine Gordimer passed away in her sleep just seven months after her friend Nelson Mandela died. For most of her 90 years, Gordimer dedicated herself wholeheartedly to the fight against apartheid and other racist political policies. She was so equity-minded, in fact, that she once refused to be named as a nominee for a book award that recognized only female authors. 

Gordimer once said, “Truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.” What a lesson for our students today! Seek the truth; the process is beautiful even if what you discover isn’t. Critical thinking is a vital ingredient for discovering what is and is not true. Sifting through media bias, historic accounts, personal opinions and societal attitudes all require the application of critical thinking skills. A powerful question for both teachers and students when researching past and present current events is: Whose voice was left out? When students can generate real answers to this question, they start to understand how policies become norms and how some norms become discriminatory policies, such as apartheid. 

Gordimer helped Nelson Mandela edit his famous speech “I Am Prepared to Die,” which he delivered in 1964 during his trial. Mandela’s speech is listed as one of the great speeches of the 20th century. When Mandela was released from prison in 1990, Nadine Gordimer was one of the first people he wanted to visit. Through the years, many of Gordimer’s books were banned by South Africa’s apartheid government for speaking out against its racially divisive policies and practices. Nevertheless, she went on to write dozens of novels and win numerous awards throughout her long life and career.

In a time when escalating violence, political turmoil and crime dominate headlines on cable and the Internet, let’s not forget to teach students about the people whose voices were dedicated to making a better world for all of us.

Gordimer once said, “There is no moral authority like that of sacrifice.” Her life bore this out to the end. Goodnight, Nadine. May you rest in a place where happy stories outnumber everything else. You deserve it. 

Donohue is a middle school English and social studies teacher in Monroe, Washington. He also teaches college courses in English, public speaking and education.