Earlier this semester in the Advanced Studies in Literature class, the poem “Telephone Conversation” by the 1986 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Wole Soyinka was discussed. Soyinka was the first African to receive this prestigious award. The poem itself deals with the gap that stretches between human beings due to cultural differences, particularly that which occurs as the result of colonization. The teachers of the course had their attention first drawn to the poem by a keynote speech delivered by Abdulrazak Gurnah, who has just been named the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature today, in the British Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies Conference held by Georgia Southern University in 2006.
Gurnah was not, however, a new face to at least one of the teachers, Lestari Manggong, who had the privilege of having Gurnah as her master’s dissertation supervisor when she studied at the University of Kent at Canterbury. Needless to say, Ms. Manggong was ecstatic when she heard that the kind-hearted, soft-spoken teacher of hers had been awarded the most prestigious honor in the literary world.
Two students of the Unpad English Studies Program had written their undergraduate theses in Gurnah’s fiction, Ani Hanifah (graduated in 2012) and Alifia Annisa (graduated in 2020), both under the direction of Ms. Manggong.
Clearly, the English Studies Program, as is the world, is indebted to Gurnah for his, as the Nobel Prize website declares, “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.” But, for us, he has been an inspiring teacher to one of our faculty members, passing on Gurnah’s insight and concern for the refugees and exiles of the world. He himself as a person of Arab descent fled Zanzibar from prosecution in 1968. And, today the world learns from him how literature is able to turn tragedy into awareness and hope that the world is capable of change for the better.
Join us in a casual Sunday afternoon discussion with Ari (Lestari Manggong). Ani (Ani Hanifah), and Ali (Alifia Annisa) on Abdarazak Gurnah as a person, a teacher, and a writer as well as on his works and how they have inspired them. The discussion will be held on Zoom at https://bit.ly/GurnahTalk. We hope to see you there.