We were pleased to learn of the Nobel Committee’s selection of novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah for the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born and raised in Zanzibar, which is now part of Tanzania, before emigrating to Great Britain as a war refugee in 1964, Gurnah is only the fifth writer from Africa to be recognized in the Nobel Prize's more than century-long history.
In choosing Gurnah as this year’s Nobel Laureate for Literature, the Swedish Academy cited Gurnah’s “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”
The author of 10 novels, Gurnah is perhaps best known for Paradise, his 1994 novel about a boy in an East African country scarred by colonialism. His latest work Afterlives (2020: Bloomsbury) explores the generational effects of German colonialism in Tanzania, and how it divided communities. He previously has been shortlisted for the 1994 Booker Prize for Fiction, the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize.
American poet Louise Glück won the prize in 2020. According to The New York Times, her award was seen as a much-needed reset for the prize after several years of scandal. Only 16 winners of the literature prize have been women and 96 of the 117 past winners come from Europe or North America.
“The choice of Glück last year and now recognizing Gurnah 22 years after the last African writer was selected as Nobel Laureate is a positive signal that the Academy members are finally acknowledging that world-class authors hail from all parts of the world and that talent and achievement are not the sole purviews of white men,” says the Authors Guild CEO Mary Rasenberger. “We congratulate Abdulrazak Gurnah for this huge achievement and for continuing to write books that offer us insights into other cultures, inspire compassion, and demonstrate the narrative craft at its finest.”