Tanzania’s Abdulrazak Gurnah has won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for his “uncompromising and compassionate” look at “the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee”, the Nobel Committee announced on Thursday.
Gurnah was born in Zanzibar, which is now part of Tanzania, in 1948, but arrived in England in 1968. “I think it’s just brilliant and wonderful,” Gurnah told Reuters after the prize was announced on Thursday. “I am very grateful to the Swedish Academy for nominating me and my work.”
Gurnah was honored with the Literature prize “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”, the academy said.
Gurnah, who has been called “one of the world’s most prominent post-colonial writers”, has written 10 novels. His first three novels: Memory of Departure (1987), Pilgrims Way (1988) and Dottie (1990) focus on the experience of immigrants living in modern-day Britain, according to the British Council website.
His 1994 novel Paradise, which is about a boy growing up in Tanzania in the early 20th century, made the shortlist for the Booker Prize, and that earned him acclaim as a novelist. Gurnah’s 1996 novel Admiring Silence tells the story of a young man from Zanzibar who moves to England, gets married and becomes a teacher. By the Sea (2001) is about an elderly asylum-seeker living in a coastal English town.
Gurnah’s main academic interest is in “postcolonial writing and in discourses associated with colonialism, especially as they relate to Africa, the Caribbean and India”, according to the University of Kent, where the Zanzibar-born writer taught until his retirement.
Gurnah, who lives in Brighton, became a Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Kent’s Department of English after pursuing a Ph.D. there at the age of 34.
The committee’s decision to acknowledge a writer who centers his work on asylum and migration comes amid the migrant crisis in Europe that has now worsened, CNN reported.
“I don’t think the acute situation right now in Europe and around the Mediterranean has affected this prize because the phenomenon of exile and migration has been there for many years,” Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel literature committee, told reporters after the announcement of the award on Thursday.
“But it is quite clear that his writings are extremely interesting and powerful right now in Europe and around the world,” Olsson added. “We are affected by what is happening in the world and it would be very strange otherwise.”
Gurnah is also well known for being contributing editor of Wasafiri magazine, a quarterly publication dedicated to international contemporary writing, according to euronews. He is now the sixth African-born writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and the 118th person to ever be awarded the prize.
Previous winners include British playwright Harold Pinter, novelists such as John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison and Kazuo Ishiguro, and French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.
Gurnah can expect to receive €984,560 ($1m) as prize money, according to euronews. The award money is sourced through the estate of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor responsible for creating the prize in his will in 1895.