'I write about the experiences of people who were born elsewhere'

March 23, 2007

Abdulrazak Gurnah is honoured with an international literary prize for his eloquent story of displacement.

Abdulrazak Gurnah, professor of English and postcolonial literature at Kent University, has been awarded the 2007 Radio France International Témoin du Monde Prize for his novel By the Sea .

The prize is awarded to an author whose book addresses important topical issues. By the Sea is the story of an elderly man who comes to Britain from Zanzibar - Professor Gurnah's birthplace - as an asylum seeker. At the time of its publication in 2002, The Sunday Telegraph said the book was "more than an eloquent novel: a necessary one... urbane, graceful and wholly captivating".

Professor Gurnah, who heads Kent University's School of English, has written seven novels including Paradise , which was shortlisted for the Booker and Whitbread prizes, Admiring Silence , and his most recent, Desertion . "I write about the contemporary experiences of people who have been born elsewhere - about displacement," he said. "But there are other issues: memory, history, how we give accounts of ourselves. I can't summarise all the themes because if I could I wouldn't need to write the novels."

Professor Gurnah's fiction reflects his experiences: he left his birthplace to study in the UK in 1968. The novels also echo his main academic interest of postcolonial writing, particularly that concerning Africa, the Caribbean and India.

"I started creative writing at the same time I began my PhD. My research writing and fiction kept pace, but now my primary activity is the fiction," he said.

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