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Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature

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Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah has won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, the award-giving body said on Thursday.

Gurnah, who grew up on the island of Zanzibar but went to England as a refugee at the end of the 1960s, was honoured "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 Swedish Academy said.

Gurnah has published 10 novels and a number of short stories.

He is best known for his 1994 novel "Paradise", set in colonial East Africa during the First World War, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction.

The theme of the refugee's disruption runs throughout his work.

Born in 1948, Gurnah began writing as a 21-year-old in England. Although Swahili was his first language, English became his literary tool.

The prize is awarded by the Swedish Academy and is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.14 million, or Sh125 million).

The prizes, for achievements in science, literature and peace, were created through a bequest in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and wealthy businessman Alfred Nobel. They have been awarded since 1901, with the final prize in the line-up - economics - a later addition.

Ahead of Thursday's announcement, Nobel watchers had suggested the Swedish Academy could choose to give the nod to a writer from Asia or Africa, following a pledge to make the prize more diverse.

It has crowned mainly Westerners in its 120-year existence.

Of the 118 literature laureates since the first Nobel was awarded in 1901, 95 -- or more than 80 percent -- have been Europeans or North Americans.

Past winners have primarily been novelists such as Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison, poets such as Pablo Neruda, Joseph Brodsky and Rabindranath Tagore, or playwrights such as Harold Pinter and Eugene O'Neill.

But writers have also won for bodies of work that include short fiction, history, essays, biography or journalism. Winston Churchill won for his memoirs, Bertrand Russell for his philosophy and Bob Dylan for his lyrics. Last year's award was won by American poet Louise Gluck.

Beyond the prize money and prestige, the Nobel literature award generates a vast amount of attention for the winning author, often spurring book sales and introducing less well-known winners to a broader international public.

- Reporting by Reuters ad AFP.