Colonialism and refuge novelist Gurnah from Tanzania wins 2021 Nobel Prize

STOCKHOLM, Oct. 7 (Reuters) – Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, 72, has won the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the plight of the refugee,” the organization said Thursday who awarded the prize. .

Based in Britain, Gurnah is the first African writer to win the award since Zimbabwean Doris Lessing in 2007, and only the second writer of color from sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigerian Wole Soyinka, who won it in 1986.

Her novels include “Paradise”, which is set in colonial East Africa during World War I and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction, and “Desertion”.

“In his ten novels he has consistently, and with great compassion, penetrated the effects of colonialism in East Africa and its effects on the lives of uprooted and migrant people,” Anders Olsson, chairman of the committee, told reporters. Nobel Prize from the Swedish Academy.

Gurnah left Africa as a refugee in the 1960s amid the persecution of citizens of Arab descent under President Abeid Karume in Zanzibar where he grew up, when peaceful liberation from British colonial rule led to a revolution.

He was only able to return to Zanzibar in 1984, allowing him to see his father shortly before his death.

Its selection for Highest Honor in Literature comes at a time of global tensions around migration, as millions flee violence and poverty in places like Syria, Afghanistan and Central America, or are displaced by climate change. Olsson said the committee’s choice was not a response to recent headlines and that he has been following Gurnah’s work for years.

“I think it’s just great and wonderful,” Gurnah told Reuters when asked how he felt about winning the award. “It’s just awesome – it’s just a big prize, and such a huge list of wonderful writers – I always take it,” he said.

“It was such a complete surprise that I really had to wait until I heard it announced before I could believe it.”

Abdulrazak Gurnah is reading for a Canterbury Cathedral project in Canterbury, Britain in June 2021, in this screenshot obtained from a video on social media. Video recorded in June 2021. CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL CHAPTER / via REUTERS

Although Swahili is his mother tongue, English became Gurnah’s literary tool when he started writing at the age of 21.

He drew inspiration from Arabic and Persian poetry as well as the Koran, but the English-speaking tradition, from William Shakespeare to VS Naipaul, will particularly mark his work, the Swedish Academy said.


“That said, it must be emphasized that it consciously breaks with conventions, upsetting the colonial perspective to highlight that of the indigenous populations,” said the academy, a 235-year-old Swedish language institute which awards the 10 million Swedish crowns ($ 1.14). million) price.

The Gurnah Prize was the second Nobel Prize for Literature in a row, and the fourth of the last six, awarded to a writer in English, an unusually long period for the prize to be dominated by a single language.

The prizes, for achievements in science, literature and peace, were created through a bequest from the Swedish inventor of dynamite and wealthy businessman Alfred Nobel. They have been awarded since 1901, with the latest programming award – economy – a later addition.

Past laureates in literature have mainly been novelists like Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison, poets like Pablo Neruda, Joseph Brodsky and Rabindranath Tagore, or playwrights like Harold Pinter and Eugene O’Neill.

But writers have also won awards for works that include short fiction, history, essays, biographies or journalism. Winston Churchill won for his memoirs, Bertrand Russell for his philosophy and Bob Dylan for his lyrics. Last year’s award was won by American poet Louise Gluck.

Beyond the prize money and prestige, the Nobel Prize in Literature attracts great attention for the winning author, often boosting book sales and introducing lesser-known laureates to a wider international audience.

($ 1 = SEK 8.7856)

Reporting by Simon Johnson and Niklas Pollard in Stockholm and Justyna Pawlak in Warsaw; additional reporting by Johan Ahlander in Gothenburg, Guy Faulconbridge in London and Terje Solsvik in Oslo; Editing by Peter Graff

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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