Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah has been awarded The Nobel prize in literature, 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 prize is worth Sh2.6 billion, goes to a writer deemed to be, in the words of Alfred Nobel’s will, “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”.
Mr. Gurnah’s 10 novels include “Memory of Departure,” “Pilgrims Way” and “Dottie,” which all deal with the immigrant experience in Britain; “Paradise,” shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994, about a boy in an East African country scarred by colonialism; and “Admiring Silence” about a young man who leaves Zanzibar for England, where he marries and becomes a teacher.
Winners have ranged from Bob Dylan, cited for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”, to Kazuo Ishiguro “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.
According to Ellen Mattson, who sits on the Swedish Academy and the Nobel committee: “Literary merit. That’s the only thing that counts.”
The Nobel winner is chosen by the 18 members of the Swedish Academy – an august and mysterious organisation that has made efforts to become more transparent after it was hit by a sexual abuse and financial misconduct scandal in 2017.
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. Just 16 have gone to women, seven of those coming in the 21st century. In 2019, the Swedish academy promised the award would become less “male-oriented” and “Eurocentric”, but proceeded to give its next two prizes to two Europeans, Handke and Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk.
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