Abdulrazak Gurnah,72, has become the first Black writer to receive the prize since Toni Morrison in 1993
The 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.
Even though Swahili was his first language, as an exile in England, Gunrah adopted English to be his literary medium. He was immensely influenced by Arabic and Persian poetry. Like Rushdie was especially inspired by The Arabian Nights, the surahs of Quran played a strong part in his writing. Besides, the novelist was inspired by many writers including Shakespeare and VS Naipaul, according to an entry published on the British Council website.
Abdulrazak Gunrah was born in 1984 and grew up on the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, which now falls into Tanzania. In 1968, at the age of 18, he came to Britain as a student amidst a violent uprising in his birthplace. Until his recent retirement, the writer has been a professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury, focusing principally on writers such as Wole Soyinka, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Salman Rushdie. Also, he was the associate editor of the journal Wasafiri.
On Thursday, Abdulrazak Gurnah, 72, has become the first Black writer to receive the prize since Toni Morrison in 1993. He is also the first African to win the award in more than a decade, preceded by Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka (1986), Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz (1988), and South African writers Nadine Gordimer (1991) and John M Coetzee (2003).
Gurnah has published ten novels and a number of short stories. His books include Memory of Departure (1987), Pilgrims Way (1988), Dottie (1990), Paradise (1994), Admiring Silence (1996) and By the Sea (2001).
The Swedish Academy published a post that said, “… it must be stressed that he consciously breaks with convention, upending the colonial perspective to highlight that of the indigenous populations.”
Mired in controversy in recent times, especially the devastating “me too” moment in the Swedish Academy, the committee was called out for its lack of diversity in both the committee and the winners it selected, rarely awarding women and people of colour. This decision thus comes as a long overdue corrective and a step in the right direction.