This week, the winners of the 2010 Nobel Prize in various fields are being announced. Winners will walk away with a medal, personal diploma, and a cash award of approximately $1.5 million each.
The awards founded by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish inventor and entrepreneur honor “men and women from all corners of the globe for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and for work in peace.”
Over the years, Africa has had its fair share of award recipients, notably Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk who were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2003. Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan won the prize in 2001, while Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai received the award in 2004. Other prominent Africans who have won this prestigious award include Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984) and Albert Sisulu (1960).
But for book lovers around the world, the prize to watch is the Nobel Prize for Literature, which is due to be announced on Thursday, October 7, 2010. Algerian writer Assia Djebar and Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o are rumoured to be among the nominees for what is one of the richest prizes in the literary field.
Whatever the outcome, this is a great opportunity to salute Africa’s past winners of the Award. In all, Africa has had four recipients of the Nobel Literature Prize.
Born in 1934, Nigerian playwright and political activist Wole Soyinka received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, thus becoming the first African to ever win this prestigious prize. He was recognized for “applying a wide cultural perspective and poetic overtones to fashions the drama of existence”
Mahfouz, who died in 2006 was an Egyptian writer, awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature for “ works rich in nuance – now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous” that have ” formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind”.
He is regarded as one of the first contemporary writers of Arabic literature. Over a career that span 70 years, he published more than 50 novels, over 350 short stories, dozens of movie scripts, and five plays. Many of his works have been made into Egyptian and foreign films.
Nadine Gordimer was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991 in recognition of her epic writing, which in the words of Alfred Nobel, “has been of very great benefit to humanity”
Born in 1923 in Springs, South Africa, Gordimer has lived all her life in South Africa.
John Maxwell Coetzee
Coetzee, another South African is the most recent African winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature having received the prize in 2003. He was recognized as a writer “who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider”.
As we mark another year of the Nobels, we would like to salute these great Africans for championing the voice of African literature on the global stage.
2011 Editor’s Note:
Two other Africans received the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded jointly to three women – Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakul Karman of Yemen. They were recognised for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.