The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded this year to Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee,” the Swedish Academy announced on Thursday.
Gurnah was born on the island of Zanzibar in 1948, but following the end of British rule in 1963 Gurnah faced persecution due to his Arab ethnicity, and was forced to flee, eventually arriving in Britain as a refugee in the late 1960s.
Living in Britain ever since, he taught at the University of Kent until his retirement.
“We are absolutely delighted that our former lecturer Abdulrazak Gurnah has been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature – truly inspirational!” the university tweeted.
Gurnah’s work numbers 10 novels including “Paradise,” which was shortlisted for both the Booker and the Whitbread Prize in 1994. The refugee experience and the dislocation that accompanies it is a central theme to much of his work.
The academy cited his “dedication to truth and his aversion to simplification” saying his novels “recoil from stereotypical descriptions and open our gaze to a culturally diversified East Africa unfamiliar to many in other parts of the world.”
The Nobel Prize for Literature is the world’s most prestigious literary award and comes with 10 million Swedish kronor (about 1.1 million dollars) prize money.
The academy’s choices have in the past been criticized for being Eurocentric, lacking diversity and for having a political agenda.
Gurnah is only the sixth African Nobel literature laureate, joining the likes of Albert Camus, Wole Soyinka and J.M. Coetzee.
Last year, the American poet Louise Gluck was awarded the literature prize, one of just 16 women to receive it since 1901.