Crowned with the Nobel Prize for Literature, Abdulrazak Gurnah receives this Monday, December 6, the most prestigious literary prize for his stories on immigration and colonization, during a ceremony in the United Kingdom where the novelist born in Zanzibar has lived in exile for over half a century.
Pandemic requires, the Nobel in science and literature are awarded, without the usual pomp, in the countries of the laureates for the second consecutive year. In London, Abdulrazak Gurnah will receive his medal and diploma at midday from the Swedish ambassador at his official residence. The prize is endowed with ten million Swedish crowns (almost 1 million euros).
Abdulrazak Gurnah, 72, is the first author of African descent to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature since South African John Maxwell Coetzee in 2003. He was honored for his accounts of the colonial and post-colonial era in Africa East and the torments of refugees caught between two worlds.
The jury praised his story “empathetic and uncompromising of the effects of colonialism and the fate of refugees caught between cultures and continents“. He also praised his “attachment to truth and aversion to simplification“.
Born in 1948 in Zanzibar, an archipelago off the coast of East Africa that 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 persecuted.
He started writing at the age of 21 in the United Kingdom, the country of which he acquired nationality, inspired by his memories and his experience as an immigrant. “I want to write about human interactions, what people go through when they rebuild their lives“, he said at a press conference, the day after his consecration in early October.
In a column in the British daily The Guardian in 2004, he explained that he was “falls” in writing, without having foreseen it. And he did not see the supreme reward coming: “You write the best you can, and you hope it works!“
A sometimes unknown author before the Nobel, the writer has published ten novels, three of which have been translated into French (Paradise, Near the Sea and Farewell Zanzibar), as well as several short stories. He writes in English even if his native language is above all Swahili. He now lives in Brighton, South East England, and taught literature at the University of Kent until his retirement.
Nobel Prize or not, the novelist assured that he would continue to speak frankly about the questions that 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, Afterlivesfollows 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 banner year for African literature, with three major prizes – the Nobel, the Booker Prize and the Goncourt – won by African writers.
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Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah receives his prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature in London