Of Gurnah and Resilience: My Op-ed on the 2021 Nobel Laureate in Literature

By Adamu Danjuma

'I speak in the voice of gentle rain
In whispers of growth
In sleight of light
I speak of light
I speak of aged hairs of wind
Midwife to cloud
And sheaves on threshing-floor'
(Prof. Wole Soyinka)

When the younger Gurnah, who was born in the Sultanate of Zanzibar — which is now part of present-day Tanzania — was forced to leave his beloved birthplace, he wasn't that popular, I think. Zanzibar Revolution didn't mare him. However, it did contribute to the making of who he is: a globally acclaimed literati and a respected academic.

One could say, for instance, that it wasn't easy for the former lecturer, Bayero University Kano, to survive in spite of the fact that he has a story, his story, and the story of refugees, to tell – someday. It's that same story he carried with him as a refugee in the United Kingdom, where he will later study, live or write some of his books. He has never been ashamed of his past, where he is from, etc. He soon found his own space, talent, voice, and identity in this global landscape even when some wanted to ignore him and his writings.

Decades after decades, his optimistic goals met his destiny and, today, many of us are rejoicing with him on the occasion of his meritorious announcement as WINNER, Nobel Prize in Literature, 2021. Luckily for him, he is able to win with words – without actually having to compete for it — that's what most of us, readers and commentators, would probably say!

You see, Emeritus Professor, Abdulrazak Gurnah, has been through a lot of hurdles and intricacies before coming into limelight. He could have given up when things started to fall apart but, like a warrior, he didn't. He kept pushing forth and conquering more terrains, intellectually and courageously, thereby using his pen to change the narratives. Nobody said it was going to be an easy task; so, he did his best, and his efforts, today, pay the best interest: In 2021, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and, sequel to the latter, he has had a bunch of prestigious literary awards coupled with special mentions at various fora as a respected scholar that he still is, even after retiring from the University of Kent at Canterbury.

As time goes on, I wish Gurnah will continue to use the art of storytelling in order to speak truth to power, promote the oneness of our humanity, and unite people through the might of his pen. A truest illustration of resilience, or a textbook definition of courage, he doesn't use literature to showcase his creative acumen as a prize-winning wordsmith all alone, given that, unlike Swahili, English isn't his mother tongue.

Today, nobody can doubt the fact that Gurnah doesn't only write in the English language. For me, he lives with it, and he — like an African Shakespeare — owns it. Even if I wasn't there when a grown-up Gurnah was enduring oppression, fighting fear, struggling for survival, and translating his dreams of yesteryears into actions, I can say that he deserves every applause. In my opinion, the writer cum academic has broken many barriers through the universality of his literary thematic.

Let me, at this juncture, cross my fingers as I await a couple of Gurnah's books.

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