African authors who won the Nobel Prize for Literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded 109 times to 113 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2016; four were African authors.

African authors who won the Nobel Prize for Literature

A person or organization awarded the Nobel Prize is called Nobel Laureate.

A person or organization awarded the Nobel Prize is called Nobel Laureate. The word "laureate" refers to being signified by the laurel wreath. In ancient Greece, laurel wreaths were awarded to victors as a sign of honor.

African authors who have won the Nobel Prize for Literature

Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, an African author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature  

Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka
Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka 

Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka (Wole Soyinka) from Nigeria wrote in English in 1986 in drama, novels, and poetry. He says he uses myths as "the aesthetic matrix" for his writing. Soyinka was the first person and only black African from Africa to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The dramas stand out as Wole Soyinka's most significant achievement. They are made to be acted on the stage, with dance, music, masques, and mime as essential components. But his plays can also be read as important and fascinating literary works from a richly endowed writer's experience and imagination - and with roots in a composite culture with a wealth of living and artistically inspiring traditions.

Soyinka is an author who writes with great deliberation, and especially in his novels and poems, he can be avant-artistically sophisticated. During the war years, his time in prison, and afterward, his writing takes on a more tragic character. The psychological, moral, and social conflicts appear increasingly complex and menacing.

Najîb Mahfûz, an African author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature  

Najîb Mahfûz from Egypt wrote in Arabic in 1988 in the genre of the novel; Cairo also provides, time and again, the setting for his novels, short stories, and plays.

Najîb Mahfûz, African authors who won the Nobel Prize for Literature   
Najîb Mahfûz

In Arabic literature, the novel is actually a 20th-Century phenomenon, more or less contemporary with Mahfouz. And it was he who, in due course, was to bring it to maturity. Some milestones are Midaq Alley, The Trilogy, Children of Gebalawi, The Thief and the Dogs, Chit-Chat on the Nile, Respected Sir, and Mirrors. Incredibly varied and partly experimental, these novels range from psychological realism to an allegorical and mystic-metaphysical design. Naguib Mahfouz has an unrivaled position as spokesperson for Arabic prose.

Through him, in the cultural sphere to which he belongs, the art of the novel and the short story has attained international standards of excellence, resulting from a synthesis of classical Arabic tradition, European inspiration, and personal artistry. Najîb Mahfûz died August 30, 2006, at age 94, in Cairo.

Nadine Gordimer, an African author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature

Nadine Gordimer, African authors who won the Nobel Prize for Literature
Nadine Gordimer 

The only female to date Nadine Gordimer of South Africa in 1991 in the genres of novel, short story, and essay. Art is on the side of the oppressed, Nadine Gordimer says in one of her essays, urging us to think before we dismiss this heretical idea about the freedom of art. If art is freedom, she asks, how could it exist within the oppressors?

She has dared to write as if censorship did not exist, and so has seen her books banned, time after time. Above all, it is people, individual men and women, that have captured her and been captured by her.

It is their lives, their heaven and hell, that absorb her. 

The outer reality is ever present, but through her characters, the whole historical process is crystallized. Conveying to the reader a powerful sense of authenticity and broad human relevance, she makes visible the extraordinarily complicated and utterly inhuman living conditions in racial segregation. She feels political responsibility and does not shy away from its consequences, but will not allow it to affect her as a writer: her texts are not agitational, not propagandistic.

Still, her works and the profound insights she offers contribute to shaping reality. Such thoughts and impressions are called forth by novels like A Guest of Honour, The Conservationist, Burger's Daughter, July's People, and My Son's Story. However, in a manner as absorbing as in her novels, Nadine Gordimer develops her penetrating depiction of character, her compassion, and her powers of precise wording in her short stories, in collections like Six Feet of the Country and, as yet untranslated, A Soldier's Embrace and Something Out There.

J. M. Coetzee, an African author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature 

J. M. Coetzee, African authors who won the Nobel Prize for Literature   
J. M. Coetzee

 J. M. Coetzee, in 2003, wrote in English in the genres of novel, essay, and translation. To write is to awaken counter-voices within oneself and to dare enter into dialogue with them. The dangerous attraction of the inner self is John Coetzee's theme: the senses and bodies of people, the interiority of Africa. "To imagine the unimaginable" is the writer's duty. As a post-modern allegorist, Coetzee knows that novels that do not seek to mimic reality best convince us that reality exists.

Coetzee sees through history's obscene poses and false pomp, lending voice to the silenced and despised. Restrained but stubborn, he defends the ethical value of poetry, literature, and imagination. Without them, we blinker ourselves and become bureaucrats of the soul. John Coetzee's characters seek refuge beyond the zones of power. Life and Times of Michael K. gives form to an individual's dream outside the fabric of human coexistence.

Waiting for the Barbarians is a disturbing love story about wanting to possess another person and to turn that person inside out as though she were a riddle to be solved. Everyone who recognizes the threat of totalitarianism and desires to own another person can learn from Coetzee's dark fables. With intense concreteness and verbally disciplined desperation, he tackles one of the significant problems of the ages: understanding the driving forces of brutality, torture, and injustice. Who does the writing? Who seizes power by taking pen in hand?

Can the black experience be depicted by a white person? In Foe, Friday is an African, already dehumanized by Defoe. To give a speech to Friday would be to colonize him and deny him what remains of his integrity. The girl in Waiting for the Barbarians speaks unintelligibly and has been blinded by torture; Michael K has a harelip, and Friday has had his tongue cut out. His life is recounted by Susan Barton: that is, through 'white writing,' the title of one of Coetzee's books.

Abdulrazak Gurnah, an African author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature

Abdulrazak Gurnah, African authors who won the Nobel Prize for Literature
Abdulrazak Gurnah

Tanzanian Zanzibar-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2021 at 72. He published ten novels and several short stories and is best known for his 1994 book Paradise. Paradise is a historical novel set in Colonial East Africa as English invaders drive natives off the land, a coming-of-age account, and a sad love story in which different worlds and belief systems collide. 

His debut novel, Memory of Departure, from 1987, is about a failed uprising and keeps us on the African continent. Abdulrazak Gurnah was born in 1948 on the Tanzanian Island of Zanzibar and currently lives in England, where they retired as a Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the University of Kent. Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. 

The United Republic of Tanzania was formed by the union, in 1964, of the newly independent state of Tanganyika and the islands of Zanzibar. Gurnah belonged to the victimized ethnic group and, after finishing school, was forced to leave his family and fled Tanzania at eighteen.

Did you know? 

The Nobel Prize is named for Alfred Bernhard Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. He used his fortune after his death and stated in his will money to institute the Nobel Prizes. Nobel held views that were considered revolutionary during his time; he took a particular interest in social and peace-related issues. The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded by the Swedish Academy, Stockholm, Sweden.

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