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Abdulrazak Gurnah

Abdulrazak Gurnah

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2021

Tanzanian-born British novelist and academic. Prize awarded "for his uncompromising & compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism & the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents."

"Respect yourself and others will come to respect you. That is the meaning of honour."


Bio by Lalitha M. Kutty, M.S. [Library & Information Science], M.A. [English Literature]

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Tanzanian-British novelist and academic, Abdulrazak Gurnah "for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents."

Mr. Gurnah has published ten novels. His 1994 publication, the historical novel Paradise, was nominated for both Booker Prize and the Whitbread Prize for fiction. His 2001 novel By the Sea was short listed for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the novel Desertion, published in 2005, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

According to The Guardian, Mr. Gurnah's "novels unfold in the intimate spaces created by families, companions and friendships: those spaces that are nurtured by love and duty yet rendered vulnerable by their very nature. In book after book, he guides us through seismic historic moments and devastating societal ruptures while gently outlining what it is that keeps those families, friendships and loving spaces intact, if not fully whole."

Literary critic Bruce King comments that Mr. Gurnah's novels place East African protagonists in their broader international context, observing that in Mr. Gurnah's fiction, "Africans have always been part of the larger, changing world." According to King, Mr. Gurnah's "characters are often uprooted, alienated, unwanted and therefore are, or feel, resentful victims." Felicity Hand suggests that Gurnah's novels Admiring Silence, By the Sea and Desertion, all concern "the alienation and loneliness that emigration can produce and the soul-searching questions it gives rise to about fragmented identities and the very meaning of 'home'."

In 2006 Mr. Gurnah was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 2007 he won the RFI Témoin du Monde (Witness of the World) award in France for By the Sea. Mr. Gurnah, who is a British citizen, lives in Canterbury. 

Mr. Gurnah was born on December 20, 1948 in Zanzibar. He moved to the United Kingdom in 1968 as a refugee following the Zanzibar Revolution. He studied at the Canterbury Christ Church University and obtained a Ph.D. in 1982 from the University of Kent. Mr. Gurnah’s thesis was titled "Criteria in the Criticism of West African Fiction." From 1980 to 1983, Mr. Gurnah taught at Bayero University Kano in Nigeria. This was followed by his tenure as a professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the University of Kent, where he taught until his retirement in 2017.

Mr. Gurnah’s published novels:

  • Memory of Departure - 1987
  • Pilgrims Way - 1988
  • Dottie - 1990
  • Paradise - 1994
  • Admiring Silence - 1996
  • By the Sea - 2001
  • Desertion - 2005
  • The Last Gift - 2011
  • Gravel Heart - 2017
  • Afterlives - 2020
Mr. Gurnah’s short stories:
  • "Cages" (1984), in African Short Stories, edited by Chinua Achebe and Catherine Lynette Innes
  • "Bossy" (1994), in African Rhapsody: Short Stories of the Contemporary African Experience, edited by Nadežda Obradović
  • "Escort" (1996), in Wasafiri, vol. 11, no. 23, 44–48
  • "The Photograph of the Prince" (2012), in Road Stories: New Writing Inspired by Exhibition Road, edited by Mary Morris
  • "My Mother Lived on a Farm in Africa" (2006), in NW 14: The Anthology of New Writing, Volume 14, selected by Lavinia Greenlaw and Helon Habila
  • "The Arriver's Tale", in Refugee Tales, edited by David Herd and Anna Pincus
  • "The Stateless Person's Tale", in Refugee Tales III, edited by David Herd and Anna Pincus

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Photo Abdulrazak Gurnah, in a conversation on the "Blue Couch" as part of "Leipzig still reads". Location: Congress Hall at the Zoo. Amrei-Marie, Wiki

Name: Abdulrazak Gurnah
Birth: 20 December 1948, Sultanate of Zanzibar
Residence at the time of the award: Canterbury, England.
Prize motivation: "for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents."
Language: English
Portion of Cash: 1/1