This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah for his body of work detailing the refugee experience and how colonialism shaped African culture.

At a news conference at the Swedish Academy’s headquarters in Stockholm, Permanent Secretary Mats Helm said Gurnah received the award for “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”

Gurnah, born in 1948 and raised on the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, arrived in England as a refugee himself in the late 1960’s. He has published ten novels and a number of short stories.

In its statement, the academy said, “In Gurnah’s literary universe, everything is shifting – memories, names, identities. An unending exploration driven by intellectual passion is present in all his books.” The statement said that quality is as evident in his latest novel, 2020’s “Afterlives,” which he began writing as a 21-year-old refugee.

The academy went on to say Gurnah’s writing is “striking” for its dedication to truth and “his aversion to simplification. 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.”

Gurnah will receive a $1.1 million cash prize, but for writers, the prize also adds prestige and publicity by exposing their work to much wider audience. 

The Nobel Prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry were awarded earlier this week, with the Peace Prize to be awarded Friday, and economics on Monday.

The awards will all be formally presented in December. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the academy announced this year’s ceremony will be a mixture of digital and physical events. Laureates will receive their Nobel Prize medals and diplomas in their home countries.

Some information in this report comes from Reuters. 

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