Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Abdulrazak Gurnah nobel prize

Abdulrazak Gurnah, the 2023 Nobel Literature Prize winner.

What you need to know:

  • He becomes only the second black African writer to win the prize since Wole Soyinka in 1986.

Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah has been awarded the 2021 Nobel prize in literature, the award-giving Swedish Academy said on Thursday.

He was awarded the 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”.

He becomes only the second black African writer to win the prize since Wole Soyinka in 1986.

Gurnah, who grew up in Zanzibar and arrived in England as a refugee in the 1960s, has published 10 novels as well as a number of short stories.

The Nobel committee said that “the theme of the refugee’s disruption runs throughout his work”.

The prestigious prize is worth $1.14 million and comes with a gold medal.

According to the Swedish Academy, the prize is awarded to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”.

Some of Gurnah’s novels include “Memory of Departure,” “Pilgrims Way” and “Dottie,” which all deal with the immigrant experience in Britain.

Another one of his books, “Paradise”, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994. It is about a boy in an East African country scarred by colonialism. Another novel, “Admiring Silence”, is about a young man who leaves Zanzibar for England where he settles down and becomes a teacher.

According to Ellen Mattson, who sits on the Swedish Academy and the Nobel committee: “Literary merit. That’s the only thing that counts.”

However, most laureates since its inception in 1901 have been Europeans or North Americans.

Last year’s prize went to the American poet Louise Glück – an uncontroversial choice after the uproar provoked by the Austrian writer Peter Handke’s win in 2019. Handke had denied the Srebrenica genocide and attended the funeral of war criminal Slobodan Milošević.

The Nobel prize for literature has been awarded 118 times. Only 16 of these have gone to women, seven of those coming in the 21st century. 

In 2019, the Swedish academy promised the award would become less male-dominated and eurocentric, but proceeded to give the next two prizes to two Europeans, Handke and Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk.

In 2016, the prize was awarded to American songwriter Bob Dylan, the first American since novelist Toni Morrison in 1993. However, Dylan initially snubbed the award but later agreed to accept it. He said it was truly beyond words to receive the prize.