Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, won the Nobel Prize for Literature
Abdulrazak Gurnah, 72, won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, the award-giving body on Thursday proclaimed that the Tanzanian novelist deserved the award for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee.
Based in Britain, Gurnah is the first African writer to win the award since the Zimbabwean Doris Lessing in 2007, and only the second writer of colour from sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka, who won in 1986.
Abdulrazak Gurnah who was born in 1948 with Tanzania being liberated from British colonial rule in December 1963. The subsequent regime of President Abeid Karume led to oppression and persecution of citizens of Arab origin with Gurnah belonging to the victimised ethnic group.
Gurnah left Africa as a refugee in the 1960s amid the persecution of citizens of Arab origin under President Abeid Karume’s regime in Zanzibar where he grew up, when the peaceful liberation from British colonial rule led to a revolution.
He was only able to return to Zanzibar in 1984, allowing him to see his father shortly before his death.
Gurnah has written 10 novels and one short story collection throughout his career. His first book, the novel Memory of Departure, was published in 1987.
With the theme of the refugee’s disruption running throughout his work. His novels include “Paradise”, which is set in colonial East Africa during the First World War and was short-listed for the Booker Prize for Fiction, and “Desertion”.
“In his ten novels he has consistently, and with great compassion, penetrated the effects of colonialism in East Africa and its effects on the lives of uprooted and migrating individuals,” Anders Olsson, head of the Swedish Academy Nobel Committee, told reporters.
His selection for the top honour in literature comes at a time of global tensions around migration, as millions of people flee violence and poverty in places such as Syria, Afghanistan and Central America, or are displaced by climate change. Olsson said the committee’s choice was not a response to recent headlines, and it had been following Gurnah’s work for years.
“I think its just brilliant and wonderful,” Gurnah said when asked how he felt to win the prize. “It’s just great – its just a big prize, and such a huge list of wonderful writers – I am still taking it in,” he said.
“It was such a complete surprise that I really had to wait until I heard it announced before I could believe it.”