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The Nobel Prize for Literature goes to a black writer for the first time since 1993

By on October 7, 2021 0

Zanzibar-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year.

“For his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the plight of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents,” the Swedish Academy announced Thursday morning.

The prize is accompanied by more than a million dollars in prize money.

Gurnah was born in 1948. He was previously Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, until his retirement.

Gurnah wrote 10 novels, including the one from 1994 paradise, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It tells the story of a boy, Yusuf, who was pledged by his father to a merchant to settle old debts. As Yusuf travels through different parts of Africa, Gurnah’s writing pushes back previous Western holds on the continent. As NPR literary critic Alan Cheuse noted at the time, “No Heart of darkness in these pages. Gurnah offers us a more realistic mix of light and dark, beautiful forests, dangerous vines and snakes, and a patchwork of warring strongholds and crafty traders straight out of the Middle Ages. ”

American poet Louise Glück won the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Swedish Academy often takes criticism for focusing too heavily on male, predominantly Eurocentric writers. In 120 years of history, only 16 women have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Until today, the last black person to receive the award was Toni Morrison in 1993. Gurnah is the fifth African writer to win – joining Wole Soyinka, Naguib Mahfouz, Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee.

The Swedish Academy intends to start diversifying more and more of the winning candidates next year, according to Academy Nobel Committee chairman Anders Olsson. In a recent interview with The New Republic, Olsson said they plan to have experts in language areas in which the committee does not have “deep expertise” (mainly places in Africa and Asia), who will come up with reports, likely with a list of names to consider.

In 2018, the awards were postponed after Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of a member of the Swedish Academy, was accused of sexual misconduct and leaking information about the Academy. Arnault was then sentenced to two years in prison for rape.

Other Nobel Prizes awarded so far this week include David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian in medicine, for their work on touch and temperature. Benjamin List and David Macmillan’s research into construction chemicals won them the Chemistry Prize. And the physics prize was shared with half going to Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann for their studies on climate change, and the other half going to Giorgio Parisi for his work on examining patterns in materials.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday.

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