Abdulrazak Gurnah Nobel Prize in Literature 2021

Posted Oct 7, 2021, 1:53 PMUpdated Oct 7, 2021, 4:00 PM

The Nobel Prize in Literature crowned Abdulrazak Gurnah, a writer of Tanzanian origin based in the United Kingdom, on Thursday October 7. The 72-year-old novelist, who teaches literature at the University of Kent, was awarded for his story “empathetic and uncompromising of the effects of colonialism and the destiny of refugees caught between cultures and continents”, according to the Swedish Academy. Abdulrazak Gurnah is the first black author since 1993 to receive the most prestigious literary award. His work moves away from “stereotypical descriptions and opens our eyes to a culturally diverse East Africa, poorly known in many parts of the world”, explained the jury.

Born in 1948 in Zanzibar, which he fled in 1968 at a time when the Muslim minority was persecuted, Abdulrazak Gurnah has published around ten books since 1987. His first three novels, “Memory of Departure” (1987), “ Pilgrims Way” (1988) and “Dottie” (1990), evoke the experience of immigrants in contemporary British society. His fourth and best-known novel, “Paradise” (1994), is set in colonial East Africa during the First World War and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, a British literary prize.

“Admiring Silence” (1996) tells the story of a young man who leaves Zanzibar and emigrates to England where he marries and becomes a teacher. A return to his native country 20 years later deeply disturbs his relationship to himself and to his marriage. “Near the Sea” (2001), awarded the RFI literary prize Witness to the World in 2007, tells the story of Saleh Omar, an elderly asylum seeker living in an English seaside town.

bewitching tongue

“Rooted in the colonial history of the African East, rustling with Swahili legends, served by a bewitching language, Gurnah’s stories navigate between the initiatory tale, the exploration of the pains of exile, autobiographical introspection and meditation on the human condition e », noted in 2010 the Franco-Djiboutian writer Abdourahman A. Waberi in Le Monde diplomatique. Gurnah “offers us melancholic, disenchanted and superbly embodied works”he added, in this review of the book “Desertion”, published in France under the name “Adieu Zanzibar”.

New Horizons

Last year, American poet Louise Glück received the Nobel for his work “with austere beauty”. This year, much speculation has revolved around the Academy’s promise to expand its geographic horizons. Even if the president of the Nobel committee Anders Olsson had taken care to reaffirm at the beginning of the week that the “literary merit” remained “the absolute and unique criterion”.

The prize is historically very Western and since 2012 and the Chinese Mo Yan, only Europeans or North Americans had been crowned. Of the 117 previous winners in literature since the awards were created in 1901, 95, or more than 80%, are Europeans or North Americans. With the 2021 prize, there are 102 men on the list for 16 women.

After the sciences at the beginning of the week, the Nobel season continues on Friday October 8 in Oslo with peace, to end on Monday 11 with the economy.


The last ten winners

2020: Louise Glück (USA)

2019: Peter Handke (Austria)

2018: Olga Tokarczuk (Poland)

2017: Kazuo Ishiguro (United Kingdom)

2016: Bob Dylan (USA)

2015: Svetlana Alexievitch (Belarus)

2014: Patrick Modiano (France)

2013: Alice Munro (Canada)

2012: Mo Yan (China)

2011: Tomas Tranströmer (Sweden)

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Abdulrazak Gurnah Nobel Prize in Literature 2021