‘The absence of work in Spanish for the Nobel Prize in Literature, shows editorial racism’

ABDULRAZAK GURNAH, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2021, was awarded “for his uncompromising and compassionate insight into the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents,” according to the award-winning Swedish Academy. . The author, born on the island of Zanzibar, in Tanzania, fled his country in 1964 due to the violence that occurred in the revolutions after its independence from England.

The author’s mother tongue is Swahili. However, his literary production began when he was 21 years old and has been in English. He has written ten novels and several short stories; the most famous works are Paradise (1994), By the Sea (2001) and Desertion (2005), and in all of them the issue of refugees, immigration and social charges for racialized people is central.

And it is that Gurnah seeks to get out of the approach of people only as victims or to contradict the stereotypes about their personalities that come from constructions made by intellectuals since colonial times.

On October 18, the publishing house Penguin Random House announced that its publishers Salamandra, in Spanish, and La Magrana, in Catalan, will put the work into circulation. By the Sea, which was originally published in 2001. The absence of Gurnah’s work in the Spanish language is an issue that has helped to reflect on racism in culture through key questions: What is important to publish for the publishing union? How do you decide what deserves to be read and sold? Who benefits from it? …

Also read: Nobel Prize in Literature for Abdulrazak Gurnah for his ‘uncompromising and compassionate insight into the effects of colonialism’

What is defined as the literary canon are the works to which a range of universality is interposed, that is, their aesthetic degree, thematic and relevance mark the history of literature as a whole.

However, when we review this history we note that the biases are evident; universality is marked by a Eurocentric look and, from the 20th century on, an American one. For example, since 2000 there have been 17 awards given to Europeans and North Americans, and only four women have been awarded since then.

The general absence of Abdulrazak Gurnah’s work translated into Spanish is an example of the continuation of racist policies in the publishing world, according to Jumko Ogata, writer and disseminator of anti-racism.

“The publishing world is dominated by racist policies, influenced by imperialism and colonialism. A writer who is so focused on the effects of colonialism in East Africa is not considered in world literature. They are seen as specific niches that will not appeal to most. Thus the prejudices around literature, writing and what we should consider as the canon are perpetuated ”.

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Therefore, neutrality does not exist in the cultural world. It is marked by the same oppressions and structural inequalities that, from the decolonial perspective, were born with colonialism in the 16th century and interposed a hierarchy over bodies by racializing them. Author Jumko Ogata thinks about racism in culture:

“The spaces for cultural diffusion and, of course, the publishing union, are also plagued by biases and systemic oppression. Rather than people accessing the post because of their talent, it has to do with who they are. That is why the literary canon is mostly white men, cisgender and of a high social class, because they have had the conditions for it to be published ”.

Thus, talent as the true motive that makes up the history of universal literature remains in check when we review the structural conditions of those who write, being affected by their conditions of race, social class, gender and whether or not they have a disability.

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Abdulrazak Gurnah uses literature to talk about the effects of colonialism on racialized bodies, where the colonial systems built since the 16th century by European powers demarcated hierarchies over bodies and, above all, economic, knowledge and cultural systems that benefited whiteness. .

Although independence processes have been carried out in a general way, this does not mean the halting of the effects of colonialism, since the wealth accumulated by the colonial powers has benefited them to build better economic conditions, while the racial hierarchical system remains creating in our current societies exodus due to poverty and violence, one of the great themes of the Tanzanian literature.

Therefore, damage repair is essential. From the literature side, according to the writer Jumko Ogata:

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“People in positions of power should have the priority of publishing diverse voices from diverse contexts, who choose to give opportunities to people from historically excluded and violated contexts. We need an effort so that there are people from these contexts not only as writers, but also as publishers, publishers, in distribution, in the direction of diffusion spaces and as owners of bookstores.

“There really must be a radical change in each of the phases of the industry so that there is a diversified offer of culture and literature, and not only the work of the privileged elite that has always had the power to narrate and share their creativity. , their stories and their art ”.

Accepting that the world of culture is neither neutral nor separate from systems of oppression is a tool of careful approach towards what we consume. The work of the Nobel Prize in Literature is an example of how fiction is able to account for the unjust conditions of inequality and how the effects of colonialism were not extinguished only with the recognition of independent nation states. Let it be a call for the future to build fairer conditions in the cultural environment. N

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‘The absence of work in Spanish for the Nobel Prize in Literature, shows editorial racism’

Hank Gilbert