Nobel Prize for Literature 2021: Author Abdulrazak Gurnah receives his prestigious prize in London

Nobel Laureate in Literature, Abdulrazak Gurnah received Monday the most prestigious literary prizes for his stories on immigration and colonization, at a ceremony in the UK where the Zanzibar-born novelist has lived in exile for over half a century.

In London, Abdulrazak Gurnah received his medal and diploma at noon from the hands of theAmbassador of Sweden, Mikaela Kumlin Granit, at his official residence, days before a ceremony at City Hall in Stockholm, Sweden, on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.

Usually you would have received the award from the hands of His Majesty the King of Sweden. However, this year, the pandemic imposes a remote celebration. And since you can’t make it to Stockholm, your Nobel Prize medal and diploma was brought to you here today“she said.

Abdulrazak Gurnah, 72 years old, is the first author of African origin to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature since the South African JM Coetzee in 2003. The Ambassador recalled that the jury had praised his “empathetic and uncompromising account of the effects of colonialism and the fate of refugees caught between cultures and continents“.

The jury which chose to give him this prize, endowed with ten million Swedish crowns (almost 1 million euros), had praised his “attachment to truth and aversion to simplification“. Born in 1948 in Zanzibar – an archipelago off the coast of East Africa which is now part of Tanzania – Abdulrazak Gurnah took refuge in England in the late 1960s, a few years after the independence of this former British protectorate, at a time when the Arab community was being persecuted.

He began writing at the age of 21 in the United Kingdom, a country from which he acquired nationality, inspired by his memories and immigrant experience. “I want to write on human interactions, what people go through when they rebuild their lives“, he declared during a press conference, the day after his consecration in early October. Jyoung, he was “falls“in writing without having planned it. And he did not see the supreme reward coming: You write the best you can, and you hope it works!Author sometimes unrecognized before the Nobel, the writer has published ten novels, three of which have been translated into French (Paradise and Near the sea), as well as several news.

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Front cover of the novel “Paradise” by author Abdulrazak Gurnah. © Denoël & elsewhere

Front cover of the novel “Near the Sea” by author Abdulrazak Gurnah. © Denoël & elsewhere

He writes in English even though his original language is primarily Swahili. He now lives in Brighton, in the south-east of England, and has taught literature at the University of Kent until his retirement. Nobel Prize or not, the novelist assured that he would continue to speak candidly about the issues that have shaped his work and his vision of the world.It’s my way of speaking“, he said, “I don’t play a role, I say what I think“.

He thus castigates the hard line of European governments on immigration from Africa and the Middle East, considering it cruel and illogical. His latest book, Afterlives, follows a little boy stolen from his parents by German colonial troops and who returns to his village to find his missing parents and his sister. 2021 has been a boom year for African literature, with three major prizes – the Nobel, the Booker Prize and the Goncourt – won by African writers.

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Illustrative photo of copies of the novel “After Lives” by author Abdulrazak Gurnah, winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature. Photo taken in a London bookstore on October 7, 2021. © Photo by Leon Neal / Getty Images

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Nobel Prize for Literature 2021: Author Abdulrazak Gurnah receives his prestigious prize in London