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Nobel Prize in Literature won by Abdulrazak Gurnah, former University of Kent student and professor


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A former University of Kent student and professor has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah - who has spent years studying and teaching in Canterbury - has been announced winner of the world-renowned accolade for his contributions to the field.

Abdulrazak Gurnah has been named winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. Picture: Chris Davey
Abdulrazak Gurnah has been named winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. Picture: Chris Davey

Former colleagues at the University of Kent have congratulated him, describing him as "a complete inspiration to all of us".

Gurnah was born in Zanzibar, Tanzania, in 1948, but is said to have fled the country at the age of 18 to escape the persecution of Arab citizens.

He resettled in England where he began studying at Canterbury Christ Church University before moving to the University of Kent, where he earned his PhD in 1982.

From 1980 to 1983, Gurnah lectured at the Bayero University Kano in Nigeria.

He then worked as a professor of English and postcolonial literatures at the University of Kent’s School of English until his recent retirement.

Gurnah teaching at the University of Kent. Picture: University of Kent
Gurnah teaching at the University of Kent. Picture: University of Kent

He has penned a number of highly acclaimed works including the 1994 novel Paradise, which was shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Prize; along with Desertion; The Last Gift; and By the Sea, which also made the Booker longlist.

Gurnah was today announced recipient of this year's Nobel Prize in Literature - which is awarded annually to an author from any country who has "in the field of literature, produced the most outstanding work in an idealistic direction".

The Nobel Committee honoured him with 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".

The University of Kent's Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Karen Cox has offered her congratulations to Gurnah upon his "tremendous achievement".

She said: "Abdulrazak is a complete inspiration to all of us – as a teacher, an alumnus of Kent and as such a powerful voice in postcolonial literature.

"Canterbury and Kent are both his exile and home..."

"His stories, some of which were first drafted in our very own Templeman Library, have touched millions worldwide and shine a light on human experiences that are so often ignored. We couldn’t be prouder of his success."

Dr Bashir Abu-Manneh, head of the university’s School of English, added: "Abdulrazak Gurnah’s writing epitomises our contemporary condition of displacement, violence, and belonging.

"His is the struggle for individual voice, for justice, for feeling at home in an ever-changing world.

"No one writing today has articulated the pains of exile and the rewards of belonging so well.

"Canterbury and Kent are both his exile and home."

Gurnah talking about his book Gravel Heart at Whitstable Castle, during the 2017 WhitLit festival. Picture: Chris Davey
Gurnah talking about his book Gravel Heart at Whitstable Castle, during the 2017 WhitLit festival. Picture: Chris Davey

Gurnah is not the first University of Kent alumnus to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

Former student Kazuo Ishiguro was also named Nobel laureate for his contributions to the field of literature, four years ago.

Abdulrazak Gurnah, pictured at the University of Kent in 2016 when he was part of the Booker Prize judging panel. Picture: Chris Davey
Abdulrazak Gurnah, pictured at the University of Kent in 2016 when he was part of the Booker Prize judging panel. Picture: Chris Davey

Ishiguro, who was born in Nagasaki, Japan, studied for a bachelor's degree in Arts, English and Philosophy at the University of Kent in 1978.

He has penned popular novels including The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, which have both been adapted for film.

He was decorated with a Nobel Prize in 2017, when judges said that he, "in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world."

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