A Conversation with Nobel Laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah

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This event, co-sponsored by the Lannan Center and the African Studies Program, featured Tanzanian novelist and Nobel Laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah in conversation with Aminatta Forna.

Abdulrazak Gurnah is the 2021 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the first Black writer to win the award since Toni Morrison in 1993. His most recent novel, Afterlives was published by Riverhead Books in August 2022. According to the TIME Magazine, Gurnah’s body of work is praised for his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.” Those topics are at the center of Afterlives, a heartbreaking and sweeping story centered on the devastation brought about by Germany’s colonial rule in early 20th-century East Africa. In Afterlives, Gurnah set out to write a novel about this period partly to bring greater awareness to the brutalities inflicted on those living in East Africa at the time. The story focuses on four characters who are all touched by the war in different ways and examines the impact of trauma. Gurnah is very familiar with the landscape of this narrative—he was born in Zanzibar, now Tanzania, and fled the country as a teenager, becoming a refugee at 18 and relocating to England.

Gurnah is also the author of nine previous novels, including Paradise (shortlisted for the Booker Prize), By the Sea (longlisted for the Booker Prize and a finalist for the LA Times Book Award), and Desertion. Born and raised in Zanzibar, he is Professor Emeritus of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent; he lives in Canterbury, England.

Watch the recording:

Read more about Abdulrazak Gurnah.

Read Abdulrazak Gurnah’s interview in TIME Magazine.

Read Aminatta Forna’s Remarks on Abdulrazak Gurnah.