From 1980 to 1982, Gurnah lectured at the Bayero University Kano in Nigeria. He then moved to the University of Kent, where he earned his PhD in 1982. He is now a lecturer there.
The most famous of these are Paradise, Desertion and By the Sea, the first of which was shortlisted for both the Booker and the Whitbread Prize. By the Sea, meanwhile, was longlisted for the Booker and shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.