The fiction writer, Abdulrazak Gournah from Tanzania has won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Swedish Academy hinged his victory on his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”.
He brings to five the number of winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature from Africa. These are one from each of Nigeria and Egypt, two from South Africa and himself. This list does not include the tri-continental Doris Lessing with roots in the UK, Zimbabwe and Iran. She won the prize in 2007.
Abdulrazak Gournah does not appear well known even in much of the literary circles in Nigeria as much as other African writers, even though he writes in English. His victory is surprising in that other writers such as Kofi Awoonor or Ngugi Wa Thiongo were speculated. Of course, the award winners have the final say on who gets or doesn’t get it.
There is a sense in which Abdulrazak Gournah’s is further surprising: the Swedish Academy mentioning literary enactment of colonialism as a justification for winning the prize? Could they have probably been hypnotized by the decolonial argument? It remains to be clarified but this award is a huge victory for postcolonial theory. The last 12 words of the justification for the award as quoted above says it all!
In the age of popular culture, the Nobel Prize on Literature coming to Africa is something although it is not clear if the previous winners – Soyinka, Mahfouz, Gordimer, Coetzee and Lessing do have a platform by which they articulate the ‘African condition’. Perhaps, they will have it now!