21st October 2021
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“It is my express wish that when awarding the prizes, no consideration be given to nationality, but that the prize be awarded to the worthiest person, whether or not they are Scandinavian.”

                      Alfred Nobel

Abdulrazak Gurnah makes history as the first Tanzanian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Swedish Academy praised 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.”

The 72-year-old writer received the call from the Swedish academy in the kitchen of his home in Southeast England. Gurnah shared his excitement with Reuters news agency, revealing that he was so surprised that he had to wait for the official announcement to believe the news. For Alexandra Pringle, Gurnah’s editor at Bloomsbury in the UK, it was one of the happiest days of her life.  “It has been one of the great sadnesses and frustrations of my career that his work has not received the recognition it deserves. For years and years, he has told beautiful and powerful stories of the winds of politics, trade, love and war that blow people across continents. After 20 years of publishing him, of keeping the faith, I had almost given up hope. This is one of the happiest days of my life.” Alexandra said.

   Abdulrazak Gurnah fled from Zanzibar to Britain at the age of 18, during the Zanzibar Revolution. He described the experience in an article on The Guardian, writing that “thousands were slaughtered, whole communities were expelled and many hundreds imprisoned.” This experience shaped his writings as most of his published works are often centred on colonialism and exiles. Two of his novels, Paradise and By the Sea were both shortlisted and longlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994 and 2001 respectively. Gurnah has also published 10 books, besides short stories and essays. His recent novel, Afterlives, published in 2020, explores the devastating effects of colonialism on lives and communities.

The chairman of the Nobel Committee, Anders Olsson revealed to reporters in Stockholm, that the committee had, in fact, been following Gurnah’s work for decades. “Gurnah’s itinerant characters in England or on the African continent find themselves in the gulf between cultures, between the life left behind and the life to come,” Olsson said, “confronting racism and prejudice, but also compelling themselves to silence the truth or reinventing a biography to avoid conflict with reality.” The process of selecting a Nobel Prize winner could take more than 7 months and after the announcements of the winner in October, the official award ceremony is held on December 10—the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. However, due to the pandemic, the Nobel Prize ceremony will not be held in Sweden for a second time in a row. The awardees will be televised receiving their prizes in their homes. 

    Abdulrazak Gurnah is the second African to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, 35 years after Wole Soyinka—who received it in 1986.

Ruth Torty

Ruth Torty is a biochemist, freelance health and biotechnology content writer. She writes to shed light on health issues, rare diseases and science research in Nigeria. She is also a creative writer and has published on different literary sites including Spillwords and Nnoko Stories. She is passionate about genomics and its role in healthcare.

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