After Abdulrazak Gurnah was awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, he instantly gained a wider international audience, something publishers are now scrambling to accommodate.
When Abdulrazak Gurnah released his 10th book, “Afterlives,” last year, his editor was sure it would become his first major best seller. For more than three decades, he had drawn stellar reviews but never gained a large readership.
“I have felt there’s a much bigger audience for him out there,” said Alexandra Pringle, executive publisher of Bloomsbury, who has worked with Gurnah for more than 20 years. “I thought, ‘This is it, this is going to be his moment.’”
“Afterlives,” which explores the brutality of Germany’s colonial rule in East Africa, came out in Britain in September 2020 and was hailed as a masterpiece. But it failed to reach a wide readership and wasn’t even published in the United States. Pringle wondered if Gurnah’s moment might never come.
A year later, it finally did. Gurnah was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, landing him in the company of Gabriel García Márquez, Albert Camus and William Faulkner, and he became the first Black laureate since Toni Morrison in 1993. The news sent booksellers across the world scrambling to stock his novels and set off a frenzy to secure translation and reprint rights. His agent, Peter Straus, said foreign rights to his books have sold in “30 territories and rising.”
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