Spread the love

Faith Nyasuguta 

For the second consecutive year, the Nobel Prizes in Science and Literature were awarded in the countries of the laureates without the usual pomp and color.

Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah received his medal and diploma in London from the Swedish ambassador, Mikaela Kumlin Granit, at his official residence. This comes a few days before a ceremony at Stockholm City Hall in Sweden on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.

“Ordinarily, you would have received the prize from His Majesty the King of Sweden. However, this year the pandemic forces us to celebrate from a distance. And since you cannot travel to Stockholm, your Nobel Prize medal and diploma have been brought to you here today,” she said.


Zanzibar-born author Abdulrazak Gurnah poses for a photo call prior to attending a press conference, after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, in London on October 8, 2021. – (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

The envoy recalled that the jury had lauded his “empathetic and uncompromising account of the effects of colonialism and the fate of refugees caught between cultures and continents.”

Posing for photos in a suit and tie while holding his medal and diploma, the novelist appeared relaxed and was smiling from ear to ear. Among those in attendance were his family members and longtime editor, Alexandra Pringle.

72 year-old Abdulrazak Gurnah is the first author of African descent to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since South Africa’s J.M. Coetzee in 2003. 

He was awarded for his stories on the colonial and post-colonial era in East Africa and the torments of refugees caught between two worlds.

The jury that hand picked him for the prize that includes ten million Swedish kronor (almost 1 million euros), lauded his “commitment to truth and his aversion to simplification.”

Born in 1948 in Zanzibar – an archipelago off the coast of East Africa that is now part of Tanzania – Abdulrazak Gurnah fled to England in the late 1960s, some years after the independence of the former British protectorate, during a time when the Arab community was persecuted.

While living in the UK, he commenced his writing at 21 years  in the United Kingdom, the nation in which he became a citizen, sparked by his memories and experiences as an immigrant.

“I want to write about human interaction, what people go through when they rebuild their lives,” he revealed at a press conference a day after his award in early October.


Books by Tanzanian-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah are on display at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm after the author was announced as the winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, on October 7, 2021. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

As a youth, Gurnah “fell” into writing without a plan. He, however, never saw the supreme reward coming: “You write the best you can, and you hope it works!”

A sometimes unsung author before the recognition, the writer has authored ten published novels, three of which have been translated into French (“Paradis”, “Près de la Mer” and “Adieu Zanzibar”), as well as several short stories. He writes in English despite his native language being Swahili.

He currently resides in Brighton, in the southeast of England, and previously taught literature at the University of Kent.

With or without the Nobel prize, the novelist assured that he would continue speaking openly about the issues that have shaped his work and his worldview.

 “This is my way of speaking,” he said, “I don’t play a role, I say what I think.”

He admonishes the hard line of European governments on immigration from Africa and the Middle East as cruel and illogical.

His latest book, “Afterlives“, follows a little boy stolen from his parents by German colonial troops and who returns to his village to find his missing parents and sister.

The year 2021 was a banner year for African literature, with three major prizes – the Nobel, Booker Prize and Goncourt – won by African writers.

About Author

Faith Nyasuguta