Tanzanian-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose work focuses on colonialism and refugee lives, won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, the Swedish Academy said.
Gurnah, who grew up on the island of Zanzibar but arrived in England as a refugee in the late 1960s, was honored “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the plight of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents, ”said the Swedish Academy.
Gurnah has published 10 novels and a number of short stories.
He is best known for his 1994 novel “Paradise”, set in colonial East Africa during World War I, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction.
The theme of the disruption of the refugee runs through his entire work.
Born in 1948, Gurnah began writing at age 21 in England.
Although Swahili was her mother tongue, English became her literary tool.
The Nobel Prize is accompanied by a medal and a prize in the amount of 10 million Swedish kronor (approximately 980,000 euros, $ 1.1 million).
Last year, the award went to American poet Louise Gluck.
Ahead of Thursday’s announcement, Nobel Prize watchers had suggested that the Swedish Academy might choose to give the green light to a writer from Asia or Africa, following a promise to make the prize more diverse.
He has mainly crowned Westerners in 120 years of existence.
Of the 118 laureates in literature since the first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901, 95 – or over 80 percent – were Europeans or North Americans.
The previous winners are mainly 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.
Gurnah would normally have received the Nobel Prize from the hands of King Carl XVI Gustaf at an official ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last wishes.
But the in-person ceremony was canceled for the second year in a row due to the pandemic and replaced with a televised ceremony showing the winners receiving their awards in their home countries.