|Abdulrazak Gurnah on Gravel Heart|
I haven't blogged much this year, for a variety of reasons, but I did want to post a brief item about this year's Nobel Laureate in Literature, Abdulrazak Gurnah. A native of Zanzibar (now a constituent part of Tanzania) who emigrated to the UK in his teens, Gurnah (1948-) is a fiction writer, critic and emeritus professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent. The Swedish Academy praised Gurnah for his "for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fates of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents," which is an excellent and concisely encompassing description of Gurnah's short fiction and ten novels, which include his debut, Memory of Departure (1987), the highly acclaimed Paradise (1994), By the Sea, which was listed for the Booker Prize and the Los Angeles Book Prize), Desertion (2005), and his most recent, Afterlives (2020).
In being named Nobel Laureate last week Gurnah becomes the first Black Nobelist in Literature of the 21st century, the Black literature prize winner first since Toni Morrison in 1993, and only the sixth African writer over all to receive the Literature Prize. He also is the first ever native of what is now Tanzania to receive a Nobel Prize. Congratulations, Abdulrazak Gurnah!
As some J's Theater readers may recall, in the lead-up to each year's Nobel Prize in Literature I used to post my thoughts, speculations, critiques, etc., but after the award to Bob Dylan back in 2016 and the scandals that led to the temporary cessation of the award a few years later, I thought to myself, why bother? Clearly the Academy, which was and perhaps still riven by internal issues, remains Eurocentric in its outlook, has made some dodgy selections in recent years (cf. the last two laureates (2019 and 2020)), is determined to go its own route, whatever the damage the public's feelings about its legitimacy and judgment.
The Gurnah choice seems like a very good decision on the merits and in light of the recent flubs, and while there are numerous other figures, not least Ngugi wa Thiong'o, whom I might have selected first, I believe Gurnah is an important and vital writer and critic--one of the greatest of his generation--and gilds the Nobel Prize with his receipt of this international honor.
More writeups about Gurnah's Nobel honor: