Academic journal

Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah receives the Nobel Prize for Literature

STOCKHOLM – UK-based Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose experience of crossing continents and cultures has fed his novels on the impact of migration on individuals and societies, won the Nobel Prize on Thursday of literature.

The Swedish Academy said the award was in recognition of Gurnah’s “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the plight of refugees in the chasm between cultures and continents.”

Gurnah, who recently retired as a professor of post-colonial literature at the University of Kent, got the call from the Swedish Academy in the kitchen of his home in the south-east of England.

“I am absolutely excited,” he told The Associated Press. “I just heard the news myself.”

Born in 1948 on the island of Zanzibar, now part of Tanzania, Gurnah moved to Britain as a teenage refugee in 1968, fleeing a repressive regime that persecuted the Arab-Muslim community to which he belonged.

He said he “stumbled” into writing after arriving in England in order to explore both the loss and the liberation of the emigrant experience.

Gurnah is the author of 10 novels, including “Memory of Departure”, “Pilgrims Way”, “Paradise” – shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994 – “By the Sea” and “Desertion”. Many of his works explore what he called “one of the stories of our time”: the profound impact of migration on both uprooted people and the places where they settle.

Gurnah, whose mother tongue is Swahili but who writes in English, is only the sixth African-born writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, dominated by European and North American writers since his founding in 1901.

Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Literature, called him “one of the most prominent postcolonial writers in the world”. He said it was significant that Gurnah’s roots were in Zanzibar, a place that “was cosmopolitan long before the globalization bonus”.

“His work gives us a vivid and very precise picture of another Africa less known to many readers, a coastal area in and around the Indian Ocean marked by slavery and changing forms of repression under different regimes and powers. colonial: Portuguese, Indian, Arabs, Germans and British, ”said Olsson.

He said that the characters in Gurnah “find themselves in the chasm between cultures … between the life left behind and the life to come, confronting racism and prejudice, but also forcing themselves to silence the truth or reinvent one. biography to avoid any conflict with reality “.

Luca Prono said on the British Council website that in Gurnah’s work “identity is a matter of constant change”. The scholar said that the characters in Gurnah “disrupt the fixed identities of the people they meet in the environments to which they migrate.”

News of the award was greeted with enthusiasm in Zanzibar, where those who knew Gurnah described him as soft and unassuming.

“The reaction is fantastic. Many are happy but many do not know him, even if the young people are proud that he is Zanzibar, ”said Farid Himid, who described himself as a local historian whose father had taught the Koran to young Gurnah. “I haven’t had the chance to read any of his books, but my family has mentioned them.”

Gurnah didn’t travel to Zanzibar often, he said, but he suddenly became the topic of conversation for young people in the semi-autonomous island region.

“And a lot of older people are very, very happy. Me too, as Zanzibar. It’s a new step in getting people to re-read books, since the internet has taken over.

The prestigious award is accompanied by a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor (over $ 1.14 million). The money comes from a bequest left by the creator of the prize, the Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.

Last year’s award went to American poet Louise Glück for what the judges described as her “unique poetic voice which, with austere beauty, makes individual existence universal”.

Glück was a popular choice after several years of controversy. In 2018, the award was postponed after allegations of sexual abuse rocked the Swedish Academy, the secret body that chooses the winners. The awarding of the 2019 prize to Austrian writer Peter Handke sparked protests because of his strong support for the Serbs during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

On Monday, the Nobel Committee awarded the Physiology or Medicine Prize to Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their findings on how the human body perceives temperature and touch it.

The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded on Tuesday to three scientists whose work has tidied up an apparent mess, helping to explain and predict the complex forces of nature, including expanding our understanding of climate change.

Benjamin List and David WC MacMillan were named Nobel laureates in chemistry on Wednesday for finding a simpler and greener way to build molecules that can be used to make compounds, including drugs and pesticides.

Still to come are awards for outstanding work in the fields of peace and economics.

Lawless reported from London. Associated Press editors Danica Kirka in London, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Cara Anna in Nairobi. Kenya, contributed.

Read more articles on past and present Nobel Prizes by The Associated Press at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.