Tanzanian-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose work touches on colonialism and refugee life, on Thursday won the Nobel Literature Prize, the Swedish Academy said.
Gurnah, who grew born on the island of Zanzibar but fled to England as a refugee at the end of the 1960s, was rewarded “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the impacts of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents,” the Swedish Academy said.
Gurnah has published 10 novels and a lot of short tales. He is best known for his 1994 novel “Paradise”, set in colonial East Africa during the First World War, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction.
The topic of the refugee’s interruption permeates throughout his art. Born in 1948, Gurnah began writing as a 21-year-old in England.
Although Swahili was his original tongue, English became his literary weapon. The Nobel Prize comes with a medal and a prize cash of 10 million Swedish kronor (approximately 980,000 euros, $1.1 million). Last year, the honor went to US poet Louise Gluck.
Ahead of Thursday’s announcement, Nobel watchers had predicted the Swedish Academy could chose to give the nod to a writer from Asia or Africa, following a vow to make the prize more diverse. It has crowned largely Westerners in its 120-year existence.
Of the 118 literature laureates since the first Nobel was awarded in 1901, 95 or more than 80 percent have been Europeans or North Americans.
Gurnah would have ordinarily received the Nobel from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of physicist Alfred Nobel who conceived the prizes in his last will and testament.
But the in-person celebration has been cancelled for the second straight year due to the pandemic and substituted with a televised program showcasing the laureates receiving their prizes in their home countries.