Abdulrazak Gurnah wins the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature | Smart News


Abdulrazak Gurnah, 73, received the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday.
Illustration by Niklas Elmehed © Nobel Prize for Outreach

Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah won the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature for his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the plight of refugees in the chasm between cultures and continents”.

Born in 1948, the writer grew up in Zanzibar. After the island was liberated from the British Empire in 1963, a violent uprising led to widespread persecution of minorities of Arab descent. As a member of a targeted ethnic group, Gurnah, 18, was forced to seek refuge in England, writes Alison Flood for the Guardian.

During his exile abroad, Gurnah wrote to cope with the trauma of dislocation.

“What motivated the whole experience of writing for me was this idea of ​​losing your place in the world,” he told the New York Times‘Alexandra Alter and Alex Marshall.

Although Swahili is Gurnah’s mother tongue, “English has become his literary tool,” notes the Swedish Academy, which awards the annual prize, in a statement. Since 1987 he has published ten novels and numerous short stories, many of which trace the lives of refugees in the face of the loss, displacement and enduring trauma caused by European colonization of the African continent. Emeritus Professor of English and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Kent, Gurnah has also published literary reviews on Indo-British novelist Salman Rushdie and Kenyan novelist and scholar Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, among others.

Gurnah’s first novel, Departure memory, tells the story of a young man from the East African coast who comes of age under the oppressive conditions of a totalitarian regime. In paradise, which was shortlisted for the 1994 Booker Prize and is described in the statement as his “groundbreaking” work, Gurnah writes from the perspective of Yusuf, a 12-year-old boy who is forced into indentured bondage in Africa’s Is in the years leading up to WWI.

As VV Ganeshananthan noted for the New York Times in 2017, even minor Gurnah characters tend to have “richly imagined stories” that bring their unique identities to life. It is an intentional choice: to speak with Judyannet Muchiri about Africa in words on his most recent novel, Beyond, Gurnah explained:

My interest was not to write about war or the ugliness of colonialism. Instead, I want to make sure that the context in which the war and colonialism occurred is understood. And that the people in this context were people with entire existences.

Gurnah’s victory was greeted by some as a sign of progress for the Swedish Academy, which has historically favored white, male and European writers. He is the first black writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature since Toni Morrison in 1993, reports Andrew Limbong for NPR. Meanwhile, the last black African writer to win the award was Wole Soyinka in 1986.

Speaking to Alex Shephard from New Republic, the chairman of the Nobel committee Anders Olsson “opposed” the question of whether the current migration crisis in Europe “had an immediate impact on our decision”, arguing rather than “the phenomenon of exile and migration has existed for many, many years ”.

Gurnah was an unexpected winner, writes Shephard, as his novels “are largely unknown outside the UK and not particularly well known inside”. At Twitterreporter Jane Friedman pointed out that Gurnah has only sold 3,000 printed copies in the United States to date.

Last year, American poet Louise Glück won the award for her “unique poetic voice which, with austere beauty, makes individual existence universal”. Including Glück, only 16 of the 118 award winners were women.

As Shephard observes in his annual commentary on the prize, “The prize has been awarded to Europeans 14 times in this century, despite the Nobel Committee’s emphasis on greater diversity and its near-public apologies for the well-deserved reputation of the award for Eurocentrism. . “

The Swedish Academy itself has been mired in controversy in recent years. In 2017, the husband of a member of the academy, Jean-Claude Arnault, was accused of serial sexual assault and of disclosing the names of the winners to bookmakers. The resulting scandal delayed the announcement of the 2018 award winner for a full year and indirectly led to the resignation of several academy members. Arnault was later found guilty of rape and sentenced to two years in prison.

The academy has also been criticized for selecting Austrian author Peter Handke as the 2019 Literature Laureate. Handke has previously expressed support for late Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević and has publicly denied the 1995 Srebrenica genocide.

Earlier this week, the Academy announced the Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine. The Nobel Peace Prize winner will be announced on Friday. Last year, the World Food Program, a United Nations organization fighting food insecurity around the world, won the prestigious award.

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