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Abdulrazak Gurnah: The Long-overdue Nobel Prize Winner

Gurnah is one of the world’s pre-eminent writers who has consistently and with great passion, penetrated the effects of colonialism in East Africa.

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Gurnah is one of the world’s pre-eminent writers who has consistently and with great passion, penetrated the effects of colonialism in East Africa.

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One black African - Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize in Literature after Wole Soyinka bagged the same award 35 years ago. The Tanzanian novelist was all over international and local media when the Nobel Prize committee announced his win.

“For his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents,” announced the Nobel Prize organization on October 7th.

The chair of the committee who awarded the prize said that Gurnah is one of the world’s more pre-eminent post-colonial writers who has consistently and with great passion, penetrated the effects of colonialism in East Africa.

Gurnah was also hailed for showing the dilemma that his characters have to confront between the life they leave behind and the one they’ll face when they seek asylum in other countries. His literary work explores and addresses racism, prejudice and silencing of truth.

The 72-year-old, who was born in Zanzibar, is based in the United Kingdom where he fled as a refugee. In 1964, the future Nobel laureate was caught up in the revolution that Zanzibar was experiencing. He had to flee because citizens of the island who were of Arab descent were being persecuted. When he made the move to the UK he was only 18.

Currently, he is the Professor Emeritus of English and postcolonial studies at University of Kent in Canterbury. Despite spending a big percentage of his life in the UK, his work is majorly based in East Africa. Gurnah has written books such as Memories of departure (1987), Pilgrims way (1988), Gravel heart (2017), Admiring silence (1996), By the sea (2001), desertion (2005), Afterlives (2020), and many more.

The Nobel laureate’s first language is Swahili but he adopted English as his literary language. However, it’s pleasurable to note that The New York Times says that for years Gurnah has resisted the italicizing or angling of Swahili words by publishers in his novels.

Abdulrazak’s win has been celebrated the world over because he is the first black man since Toni Morrison in 1993 to win the prize. Many accomplished writers believe that his win was long overdue, bearing in mind he has published more than 10 novels throughout his life. His works mainly reveal the devastation of separation from family, the hard circumstances that lovers had to overcome, the adversity of living under German rule and transitioning to British rule later on and so much more.

His Nobel Prize came with a cash prize of more than $1 million and he joins the long list of African literary giants such as Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chimamanda Adichie among others.

Apart from the Nobel Prize, his book “Paradise” was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994. This win comes at a time when the Nobel Prize had come under heavy criticism for lack of diversity. A Swedish journalist wrote that 95 of the 117 past Nobel Laureates were from Europe or North America. The journalist further noted that only 16 winners had been women.

One of the women was Polish writer Louise Gluck who won the same category in 2020. Other African writers who have won the Nobel Prize are Egypt’s Naguib Mahfouz (1988), South Africa’s Nadine Gordimer (1991) & John Maxwell Coetzee (2003), British-Zimbabwean novelist Doris Lessing (2007).

A study conducted by scholars Jichao Li, Yian Yin, Santo Fortunato, and Dashun Wang, revealed Nobel Prize winners are twice as productive from the start of their careers. Could that be the secret to winning the coveted Nobel Prize?

Abdulrazak Grunah’s work is now poised to garner a wider readership after this great acknowledgment.

Written by

Wahome Ngatia

Peter Wahome Ngatia is an all rounded Marketing Specialist who deals in Graphic Design, Social Media, SEO and Content Writing. My passion is to use my skills and knowledge to help African businesses grow and thrive so that we can create employment for the youth. I also want to churn helpful content that inspires millennials to go hard after their dreams. Mantra: You learn more from failure than success.

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