Abdulrazak Gurnah (Zanzibar, 20 December 1948) is a British naturalized Tanzanian writer and novelist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2021.
He writes in English and lives in the UK. His best-known novels are Paradiso (Paradise, 1994), selected for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Prize, Il desertore (Desertion, 2005), and Sulla riva del mare (By the Sea, 2001), selected for the Booker Prize and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Awards.
Born in 1948 on the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of East Africa and at the time part of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, he finished secondary school in 1966, two years after the revolution, a period strongly marked by unrest and violence . To continue his studies and escape the ongoing conflicts, at the age of eighteen he moved with his brother to Great Britain, with a cousin who was pursuing a PhD at a college in Wye, Kent. 1980 to 1982. Gurnah taught at Bayero University, in Kano in Nigeria. In 1982 he received his PhD from the University of Kent, where he taught English and postcolonial literature from 1985 until his recent retirement.His first novel, Memory of Departure, completed around 1973, was initially rejected. from the Heinemann African Writers Series (AWS), the series that made many African writers internationally known, including Chinua Achebe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Buchi Emecheta and Okot p'Bitek, and was only published in 1987 by London-based publisher Jonathan Cape, to whom Gurnah had sent his manuscript, without using any intermediary agent, followed by Pilgrims Way (1988), Dottie (1990) and Paradiso (1994), a finalist for the Booker Prize. Later works include Admiring Silence (1996), On the Seashore (2001), Desertion (2005), The Last Gift (2011) and Gravel Heart (2017), Afterlives (2020).
Recurring themes in his novels are the experience of immigrants, belonging and desire, displacement, memory and colonialism. He has edited two volumes of essays on African literature, Essays on African writing: A Re-evaluation (1993) and Essays on African Writing: Contemporary Literature (1995).
He has published articles on numerous contemporary postcolonial writers, including VS Naipaul, Zoë Wicomb and Salman Rushdie. On the latter author he wrote an essay, The Cambridge Companion to Salman Rushdie, published by Cambridge University Press in 2007. He has worked as an editor in Wasafiri magazine since 1987.
Gurnah oversaw writing research projects by Rushdie, Naipaul, GV Desani, Anthony Burgess, Joseph Conrad, George Lamming and Jamaica Kincaid.
On 7 October 2021 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature with the following motivation: "for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gap between cultures and continents". The award will be made online due to the emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Themes and characters
Most of Gurnah's novels are set on the coast of East Africa and all but one of the protagonists of Gurnah's novels were born in Zanzibar. Recurring themes in his novels are memory, also seen as a tool for deconstructing historical narratives; the experience of emigration; the sense of uprooting felt by those forced by circumstances or voluntarily into exile, abandoning their land; colonialism; hybridism; belonging and the search for identity; the criticism of the despotism of African nationalist discourses, often represented by the persecutions against the Arabs that took place during the period of the Zanzibar revolution. The characters of lui-Daud's works in Pilgrim's Way (1988), the young British black girl in search of pr