Tanzanian Novelist Abdulrasaq Gurnah has become the second ‘Black African’ writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature following in the footsteps of Wole Soyinka in 1986. The Nobel Prize has been awarded 118 times since 1901 and another Black African emerging as the winner of this prestigious award after 35 years, comes as a victory to African Literary scholars around the world.
According to the Swedish Academy, the body responsible for selecting winners of the Prize, AbdulRazaq was given this recognition due to his uncompromising and compassionate portrayal of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.
- Abdulrasaq Gurnar was born December 20, 1948, in the Sultanate of Zanzibar which is now part of present-day Tanzania. He left for the United Kingdom at the age of 18 to escape the prosecution of Arab citizens during the Zanzibar revolution in the 1960s.
- Arriving in the UK In 1968 as a refugee, he attended the Christ Church College, Canterbury, whose degrees were at the time awarded by the University of London. He then moved to the University of Kent, where he earned his Ph.D., with a thesis titled ‘Criteria in the Criticism of West African Fiction’.
- In an interview with Guardian, he narrates his writing journey: “It was in the first few years of living in England, when I was about 21, that I began to write. In a sense, it was something I stumbled into rather than the fulfillment of a plan. In a larger part, it was to do with the overwhelming feeling of strangeness and difference I felt there.”
- He went on to release his debut novel, Memory in Departure in 1987 after which he released Pilgrims Way, and Dottie in 1988 and 1990 respectively, and has published ten novels so far.
- From 1980 to 1983, Gurnah lectured at Bayero University Kano in Nigeria. He was also a professor at the University of Kent’s department of English until his retirement.
- Even though he had lived most of his life in the United Kingdom the Literary Scholar never forgot his roots. All his novels except Dottie are set in the background of the Eastern African Swahili Coast and Zanzibar.
His novels explore follows three major patterns:
Connecting to the reader’s mind
Abdulrasaq Gurnah uses a prose-like style of writing to connect to the reader’s mind. It’s almost like he understands the reader and gives them what they expect next. In novels like Dottie which followed the plot of a young girl who grew up with mixed origins and her struggle to serve as a parent for her brother and sister, a story an average person can relate to.
Connecting Immigrants and Geography
The Literary legend is keen on writing stories that give insights into the lives of immigrants and their historical geographies due to his own story of migrating to the UK. He explores stories on colonial domination, patriarchy, racism, and xenophobia. His work points to the ways such realities affect people’s lives and can make them violent to each other and further goes on to preach about the importance of seeing others the way we see ourselves even if we are all not of the same ethnicity or race.
In Gurnah’s novels, he applies empathy to his storytelling when tracing histories of trans-national and trans-oceanic movements in places like East Africa. He talks about the Eastern-African slave trade, German and colonial oppression while expressing empathy to the characters who are usually caught in violent and unequal situations beyond their control.