Radical Books Collective (RBC) recently hosted Nobel laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah at a book club event featuring his novel Gravel Heart. Swahili literatures scholar Meg Arenberg led the virtual event and engaged Gurnah in conversation in a virtual room of over 40 participants.

Gurnah reportedly spoke with “kindness, eloquence and wittiness” on a range of subjects including the question of immigration down to his literary influences and the significance of the Nobel Prize to his career.

Gravel Heart is Gurnah’s 9th novel. First published in 2017 by Bloomsbury, the 272-paged novel follows Salim, a Zanzibar immigrant in the UK coming to terms with childhood trauma while navigating looming questions of race, identity and a sense of belonging. Gurnah joined the bookclub participants during the second half of the conversation.

Attendees were overjoyed to share space with Gurnah while engaging him in conversation about his book. Gurnah revealed that the novel, including its title, was inspired by Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and noted the continuities between his personal experience on certain aspects of the book. Hosting a Nobel Laureate is a milestone worth celebrating and speaks to the growing influence of RBC in the literary scene.

Founded by University of Connecticut professor Bhakti Shringarpure and Suchitra Vijayan author of Midnight’s Borders, the Radical Books Collective makes space for books that may not enjoy as much visibility because of their irreverent, unconventional, and boundary pushing approach to ideas.

FYI: the next book on their calendar is Amita Ghosh’s The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis. The bookclub will meet on March 12. If you’re interested in attending, follow this link for information on how to become a member of the bookclub. For updates on new selections and upcoming events, follow Radical Books Collective on Instagram.