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By Canisius Mushibwe

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature has landed in the hands of a Tanzanian novelist to become only the second black African to win the prestigious award after Nigerian writer.

Gurnah, 72, has joined Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka as the only two non-white writers from sub-Saharan African to ever win the prestigious literature award.

Image /Courtesy/
Image /Courtesy.

Gurnah used his experience as a runaway refuge transitioning into his new life in the UK to develop characters and scenarios in his books. 

Abdulrazak Gurnah was born in one of  Zanzibar’s islands, however, conflicts targeted at Arab descends in that region which caused a revolution in 1964. He left the country for the United Kingdom, where he now resides.

The Nobel winner was forced to run away at the age of 18 and began to write in English as a 21-year-old refugee in England.

The novelist has written different great works which have been recognized worldwide ranging from ideas surrounding colonialism, displacement and belonging among others.

His novel ‘Paradise set in colonial East Africa during the first world war’ was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994 in the fiction category and for a Desertion.

Gurner has recently sat on the board of the Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African literature and has worked as a contributing editor for the literary magazine for several years.

He is currently a Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the University of Kent, having retired in 2017.

Gurnah draws inspiration for his writing from Arabic and Persian poetry, the Koran and the English-language tradition from the likes of William Shakespeare. 

Since Soyinka became the first African to win the literature Nobel prize in 1986, it has been won by Egypt’s Naguib Mahfouz and three caucasian African writers, namely  South Africa’s Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee, and Doris Lessing, who was raised in Zimbabwe.

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Canisius Mushibwe

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