Tanzanian novelist Gurnah wins 2021 Nobel Prize for depicting impact of colonialism, migration

Abdulrazak Gurnah reads for a Canterbury Cathedral project in Canterbury, Britain June 2021, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. Video recorded in June 2021. CHAPTER OF CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL/via REUTERS

Abdulrazak Gurnah reads for a Canterbury Cathedral challenge in Canterbury, Britain June 2021, on this display seize obtained from a social media video. Video recorded in June 2021. (REUTERS)

STOCKHOLM  – Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah gained the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee,” the award-giving physique mentioned on Thursday.

Based in Britain and writing in English, Gurnah, 72, joins Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka as the one two non-white writers from sub-Saharan Africa ever to win what’s broadly seen because the world’s most prestigious literary award.

His novels embrace “Paradise”, set in colonial East Africa throughout World War One and short-listed for the Booker Prize for Fiction, and “Desertion.”

“Gurnah’s itinerant characters in England or on the African continent find themselves in the gulf between cultures and continents, between the life left behind and the life to come,” Anders Olsson, head of the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Committee for Literature, informed reporters.

“I dedicate this Nobel Prize to Africa and Africans and to all my readers. Thanks!” Gurnah tweeted after the announcement.

Gurnah informed Reuters by phone that the prize was “such a complete surprise that I really had to wait until I heard it announced before I could believe it.”

He left Africa as a refugee within the Nineteen Sixties amid the persecution of residents of Arab origin on the Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar, which might unite with the mainland territory Tanganyika to kind Tanzania. He was in a position to return solely in 1984, seeing his father shortly earlier than his dying.

His choice for the highest honour in literature comes at a time of world tensions round migration, as tens of millions of individuals flee violence and poverty in locations resembling Syria, Afghanistan and Central America, or are displaced by local weather change, usually taking great dangers throughout their passages.

Olsson mentioned the committee’s alternative was not a response to current headlines, and it had been following Gurnah’s work for years.

In an interview in a while Thursday with Reuters, Gurnah, nevertheless, expressed amazement on the decision and braveness of those that travelled thus far to flee their very own international locations for a brand new life.

“This somehow is constructed as if it’s immoral – you know they use this phrase ‘economic migrant’ – as if to be an economic migrant is some kind of crime. Why not?”

“Millions of Europeans over centuries left their homes for precisely that reason and invaded the world for precisely for that reason,” he mentioned in his backyard within the English metropolis of Canterbury.


Though Swahili was his first language, English grew to become Gurnah’s literary software when he started writing on the age of 21.

He has drawn inspiration from Arabic and Persian poetry in addition to the Koran, however the English-language custom, from William Shakespeare to V.S. Naipaul, would particularly mark his work, the Swedish Academy mentioned.

“That said, it must be stressed that he consciously breaks with convention, upending the colonial perspective to highlight that of the indigenous populations,” mentioned the academy, a 235-year-old Swedish language institute which awards the prize and the ten million Swedish crowns ($1.14 million) that go along with it.

This was the second straight yr that the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to a author in English, and the fourth of the final six, an unusually lengthy stretch for the prize to be dominated by a single language.

In an interview with the Academy, Gurnah mentioned many Europeans misunderstood the concept of migration.

“When many of these people who come, come out of both need, and also because, quite frankly, they have something to give,” he mentioned. “They don’t come empty-handed. A lot of them are talented, energetic people who have something to give.”

“So that might be another way of thinking about it. You are not just taking people in as if they are poverty-stricken nothings.”

Eliah Mwaifuge, a professor of literature at Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam, mentioned Gurnah “truly deserves this award,” though the author’s work was higher recognized overseas than in Tanzania itself.


Peter Morey, a professor within the University of Birmingham’s Department of English Literature, singled out Gurnah’s “fearless understanding of the connections between people and places and how they change over time in the face of the boundaries and borders designed to keep them apart.”

“In one of his novels he describes the memory of the exile as being ‘a dim, gutted warehouse with rotting planks and rusted ladders where you spend time rifling through abandoned goods,’” Morey mentioned.

Since Soyinka grew to become the primary African to win the prize in 1986, it has been gained by Egypt’s Naguib Mahfouz and three white African writers – South Africans Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee, and Doris Lessing, who was raised in British-ruled Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

Past winners have primarily been novelists resembling Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison, poets resembling Pablo Neruda, Joseph Brodsky and Rabindranath Tagore, or playwrights resembling Harold Pinter and Eugene O’Neill.

But writers have additionally gained for our bodies of work that embrace brief fiction, historical past, essays, biography or journalism. Winston Churchill gained for his memoirs, Bertrand Russell for his philosophy and Bob Dylan for his lyrics. Last yr’s award was gained by American poet Louise Gluck.

Beyond the prize cash and status, the Nobel literature award generates an enormous quantity of consideration for the successful creator, usually spurring e book gross sales and introducing much less well-known winners to a broader worldwide public.


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