Gurnah, who grew up on the island of Zanzibar but who arrived in England as a refugee at the end of the 1960s, is the fifth African to win the Nobel Literature Prize.
The Swedish Academy said Gurnah was honoured “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”
“His novels recoil from stereotypical descriptions and open our gaze to a culturally diversified East Africa unfamiliar to many in other parts of the world,” the Nobel Foundation added.
Gurnah has published 10 novels and a number of short stories.
He is best known for his 1994 breakthrough novel “Paradise”, set in colonial East Africa during World War I, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction.
The theme of the refugee’s disruption runs throughout his work.
Born in 1948, Gurnah fled Zanzibar in 1968 following the revolution which led to oppression and the persecution of citizens of Arab origin.
He began writing as a 21-year-old in England. Although Swahili was his first language, English became his literary tool.