The 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded this Thursday, October 7 to the Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, the Nobel committee announced from Stockholm.
The jury praised his work “Empathetic and uncompromising of the effects of colonialism and the plight of refugees caught between cultures and continents”. He succeeds the poet Louise Glück, awarded last year for her “Most recognizable poetic voice, which, with austere beauty, makes individual existence universal”.
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Known for “Farewell Zanzibar” and “Paradise”
Born in 1948 in Zanzibar, Abdulrazak Gurnah emigrated to the United Kingdom in the 1960s under refugee status. Just freed from the British yoke, Zanzibar was then undergoing a revolution which, under President Abeid Karume, had led to the oppression and persecution of citizens of Arab origin. At the age of 18, after finishing his studies, Gurnah was forced to leave his family and flee the country, then the newly formed Republic of Tanzania by the alliance of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. He will not return there until 1984, shortly before the death of his father.
Recently retired from his post as Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury, he has edited two volumes of “Essays on African Writing” as well as the “Cambridge Companion to Salman Rushdie” – which he did never won the Nobel – and has published on a number of contemporary postcolonial writers, including VS Naipaul, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Zoë Wicomb. He wrote ten novels and several short stories, in English but also in Swahili, his mother tongue. The theme of refugees is found throughout his work. Gurnah is best known for his novels “Adieu Zanzibar” (Galaade), RFI Witness to the World award in 2007, and “Paradise” (Of Christmas), finalist for the Booker Prize in 1994.
“Abdulrazak Gurnah’s dedication to truth and his aversion to simplification is striking. His novels avoid stereotypical descriptions and open our eyes to a culturally diverse East Africa, unknown to many in other parts of the world ”, writes Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel committee. “In Gurnah’s literary world, everything moves – memories, names, identities. This is probably because his project cannot be completed in a definitive sense. An endless exploration driven by intellectual passion is present in all of his books, evident both in “Afterlives” (2020), as when he began writing when he was a 21-year-old refugee. “
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The Swedish Academy is often accused of focusing on male writers, mainly Europeans. In 120 years of history, only 16 women have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The last black laureate to receive the award was Toni Morrison in 1993. Abdulrazak Gurnah is the fifth African author to receive the prestigious award, after Wole Soyinka in 1986, Naguib Mahfouz in 1988, Nadine Gordimer in 1991 and JM Coetzee in 2003.
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Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah receives Nobel Prize for Literature