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Who is Abdulrazak Gurnah the 2021 Nobel Prize Winner in Literature?

Abdulrazak Gurnah, the newest laureate in Literature, is an author who has spent his life writing about migration and postcolonial struggles.

Abdulrazak Gurnah, the newest laureate in Literature, is an author who has spent his life writing about migration and postcolonial struggles.

Abdulrazak Gurnah, born in the Sultanate of Zanzibar fled to the United Kingdom as a refugee when he was eighteen. In the early 1960s, the Protectorate of the United Kingdom towards Zanzibar was terminated and the country fell under the direct control of the Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah. However, in 1964, the Zanzibar Revolution removed the Sultan from power, and the island was left with a power vacuum. Watching all of this unfold in his home, influenced Abdulrazak Gurnah’s writing throughout his career.

This year Gurrah was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature based on "his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fates of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”

Hurrah is the second African author to win the prize and is the first Black laureate to win in this category since Toni Morrison in 1993.

Life in the United Kingdom

After fleeing his home, he continued his studies in the United Kingdom earning a bachelor’s degree from Canterbury Christ Church University.

In the early 1980s, he worked as a professor in Nigeria at Bayero University Kano later going on to finish his Ph.D. and work at the University of Kent until his retirement. Much of his courses and research were focused on postcolonial literature, which he also contributed to as a novelist. Some of his most famous novels include: By the Sea and Paradise.

Gurrah's style and impact

As an author, Gurrah is known for his integration of Arabic, Swahili, and German in his English prose. This style gives his novels a certain voice that enhances his messages which typically relate to migration, displacement, identity, colonialism, and state failure.

While Gurrah’s work has not reached the same level of commercial success as previous winners, its impact should not be understated. For millions around the world who have experienced the struggles that come with gaining the right to self-determination under post-colonial and exploitive conditions,  his writings have allowed them a lens to contextualize their experience.

The Guardian reported that Gurrah’s editor, “Alexandra Pringle at Bloomsbury, said Gurnah’s win was “most deserved” for a writer who has not previously received due recognition.”

When asked if he was surprised he had one, Gurrah responded that he thought it was a prank and later went on to say: “I am honoured to be awarded this prize and to join the writers who have preceded me on this list. It is overwhelming and I am so proud.”


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