For the first time since 1993, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to a Black writer.
The Swedish Academy announced this morning that Tanzanian-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah is this year’s recipient. He has written ten novels, including the recent work, “Afterlives” (2020), 1994’s “Paradise,” and 2001’s “By the Sea,” both of which were nominees for the Booker Prize.
Gurnah was awarded the prize “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents,” the Academy said in a statement on Twitter posted this morning.
The 2021 #NobelPrize in Literature is awarded to the novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.” pic.twitter.com/zw2LBQSJ4j
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 7, 2021
He is the first Black writer to win the Prize since 1993, when it was awarded to American author Toni Morrison. He is only the fifth author from an African country to be awarded the prize, and the first Black writer from Africa to win since Wole Soyinka in 1986.
“I thought it was a prank,” said Gurnah in a statement published by the Guardian. “These things are usually floated for weeks beforehand, or sometimes months beforehand, about who are the runners, so it was not something that was in my mind at all. I was just thinking, ‘I wonder who’ll get it.’”
He added, “I am honored to be awarded this prize and to join the writers who have preceded me on this list. It is overwhelming and I am so proud.”
The Swedish Academy, the organization which awards the Nobel Prize, has been criticized for favoring white, male, and often European nominees. Of the 118 times the Prize has been awarded in literature, only 16 awards have gone to women.
Following allegations of sexual assault leveled against a husband of one of the Academy members, the organization vowed in 2019 to be less male and European-centric — before awarding the prize to two Europeans, the Guardian reports.
In 2020, the Prize was awarded to American poet Louise Glück.