When the Swedish Academy called to inform Author Abdulrazak Gurnah of his Nobel Prize win, the 73-year-old dismissed the caller as a prankster while fixing himself a cup of tea.
He was eventually convinced of the call’s authenticity, and soon the “Afterlives” novelist was flooded with interview requests from eager journalists.
Gurnah’s achievement marks the first time a Black African novelist won the Nobel Prize in Literature since the mid-1980s, according to BBC.
Gurnah won the award “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents,” according to The Nobel Prize website.
Gurnah was born in Zanzibar, Africa in 1948. Forced to flee his home country due to ongoing political turmoil, 18-year-old Gurnah and his brother sought refuge in England. They were met with an onslaught of “loathing” as anti-immigration sentiment swept late 1960’s Britain.
“It seemed constant and mean. If there had been anywhere to go to, I would have gone,” wrote Gurnah in a 2001 article in The Guardian. “But I had broken the law in my own country and there was no going back.”
Gurnah’s experience as a refugee informed his writing, and he went on to publish many acclaimed novels.
From his literary debut “Memory of Departure” in 1987 to his breakout coming-of-age novel “Paradise” in 1994, Gurnah’s novels rejected “the colonial perspective to highlight that of the indigenous populations,” according to Chairman of the Nobel Committee Anders Olsson.
In addition to his work as an accomplished author of 10 books, Gurnah served as a Professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent. He recently retired from teaching.
Gurnah considers fiction a useful tool to challenge those with an anti-immigration mindset.
“What fiction can do is it can fill in the gaps,” Gurnah said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And actually allow people to see that, in fact, they are complicated stories which are being mashed up by the high-sounding lies and distortions that seem to be what popular culture somehow requires to continue to ignore and to dismiss what they don’t want to hear.”