The Return of the Nobel Prize in Literature Since 1993: Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe on Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Nobel Prize Win

If books were revelations, writers would have been prophets, and libraries would have been temples. But since revelation involved both books and people, the earth must be a reading place. Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. — Aristotle. In addition, writers play a fundamental role in education and research, and to be successful in our globalized information-saturated world — readers must not only acquire content knowledge in their selected disciplines, but also develop their ability to find, evaluate, and use information efficiently and ethically.


Re-reading oneself to understand why one is read, spoken about, and seen as human – is an act of self-evaluation in education. In a race, one comes out first or second, or even last. But in writing, one does not need to come out first or second. But, of course, a writer has to be appreciated for his/her good work. What writing and cooking share in common is that they must both whet the appetite of their consumers. Abdulrazak Gurnah has come to show us that African literature is still African at its best. If I can understand Shakespeare, you can understand me, or Wole Soyinka. 1993-2021 talent beats knowledge, again. Humans aren’t humanity’s friends. 

African literature is undergoing series of transformations since the demise of Chinua Achebe in 2013. Most African writers residing abroad now write contemporary stories reflecting their influence and not their origin. Hardly one finds an African writer living in the United States or the United Kingdom whose writing has not been completely influenced by the environment he or she lives in. In the words of Chinua Achebe, the icon of African literature, ‘If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own. Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am – and what I need – is something I have to find out myself.’

 The Nobel Prize in Literature returned home at a better time when the United Nations General Assembly Resolution (Ref.: A/74/396, 18 December 2019) proclaimed the International Decade of Indigenous Languages starting from 2022 to 2032 with a preparatory period from 2020 to 2021. Since 1993, Abdulrazak Gurnah is the first black African writer in 35 years to win the prize since Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka in 1988, the first black writer since US’ Toni Morrison in 1993, and the first African writer since Doris Lessing’s 2007 win.

In decolonizing the mind, African writers should always portray the importance of written and oral African works as key components of art in their work. Poetry is what speaks when the heart is too heavy to bring forth words. Stories tell us what we should be told about ourselves, but dramas are what both funnily hurt and entertain us when we are too inhuman to laugh for us humans. 

In recognition of our meritorious service to God and our continent, Africa, for a long time has witnessed various forms of moral crisis in our social system, including the persecution of writers and the disappearance of journalists. If you stare too long at the past, you’re going to see a gigantic and fascinating gap of silence and alterations in our continent’s literacy history.

From the Realms of Darkness to the Gothic Fiction Age, not all American writers agreed with the Transcendentalist notions that the divine is implicit and that people are essentially good. Some felt that these views did not adequately take into account the darker side of human nature, the presence of suffering in the world, and the ongoing conflict between good and evil. 

For centuries, American Indians have relied fundamentally on spoken language for diplomacy, decision-making, and preservation of their history and culture. In American Indian cultures, spoken language mystically links the natural and spiritual words and has the power to shape events. 

 On the contrary, Africans have heavily relied on oral traditions for far too long to pass judgments and handed down their history from one generation to another. Of course, writers help in the preservation of the African cultural identity and, subsequently, the heritage which is almost always under constant threat of annihilation by the colonialist. A writer then takes the African story forward and exports it to the rest of the world so that it can appreciate that beauty. While countries like The Gambia and Senegal are yet to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Tanzania and Nigeria have proven that the language of humanity is human. And to speak to the world, you must first speak in your native language. 

”𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐠𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐢𝐬 𝐢𝐦𝐩𝐨𝐬𝐬𝐢𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞, 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐬𝐞 𝐰𝐡𝐨 𝐜𝐚𝐧𝐧𝐨𝐭 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐢𝐫 𝐦𝐢𝐧𝐝𝐬 𝐜𝐚𝐧𝐧𝐨𝐭 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐲𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠.” —𝐆𝐞𝐨𝐫𝐠𝐞 𝐁𝐞𝐫𝐧𝐚𝐫𝐝 𝐒𝐡𝐚𝐰. Our mind is incredible. What we tell ourselves is what we begin to believe, and our beliefs turn into actions. These actions turn into results, so if you’re unhappy with your results, you start by changing your mindset.

While many believe that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie should have won this year’s Nobel prize, writing is not a race to finish up with wins or losses. Writing is a specific discipline of thoughts and ideas. It is the only institution of human dignity where one writes what pleases him to please others. A writer must be read!

Written by Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe

Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe
Executive Director

Real Name: Modou Lamin Sowe (ML)
Pen name: Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe
Author and Scholar
Former school-librarian: Masroor Senior Secondary School/ Gambia National Library
Founder of the Young Writers’ Association of The Gambia (YWAG)
Former University Librarian, Director of Academic Research and Teaching Assistant at African Development University ( A.D.U. )
Contact:  (WhatsApp+2207791631 ) 
Join The Conversation