‘That little space’: Locating Abdulrazak Gurnah in the Global Literary Marketplace



The transformation of the publishing world in recent decades—which includes, among other things, the increasing significance of large retail outlets, the emergence and establishment of literary agents, and the merger of publishing houses into large media corporations—has been amply documented. Among the consequences for postcolonial literary fiction, and African English-language fiction, which is the subject here, are increasing use of the author as a public figure and marketing device, and heightened expectations on cultural representativity that link authors to particular places and cultures. With a focus on the initial and middle phases of his career, this article discusses the ways in which East African author Abdulrazak Gurnah has responded to such pressures in his novels and in essays and articles. It shows how both the form and the content of Gurnah’s writing exemplify a double effort to complicate ideas which frame authors and their texts through culture-specific identities and the seemingly opposite, generalizing notion of the postcolonial’ author which flattens history—a strategy of ‘self-authorization’ which can be seen as Gurnah’s critical resistance towards received categories used in both book marketing and postcolonial authorship. In a further twist, this resistance is in some tension with Gurnah’s choice to write in English and use an unmarked linguistic style and register since these seemingly align with marketing interests and enable easy translation which facilitates the global circulation of his books.

author Erik Falk

Nordic Journal of English Studies, 19.4: pp.150–168.

published 2020