NZ's Harley Hern Commonwealth Short Story Prize Winner
Harley Hern, From New Zealand, Named Regional Winner
for Pacific in
2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize
The writer, artist and editor Harley Hern, who lives in a rural block where she chainsaws firewood and fixes fences, is today announced the regional winner for the Pacific in the world’s most global literary prize. In her story ‘Screaming’ a visit to a New Zealand care home forces two friends to confront deceit, identity and endings.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from the Commonwealth. It is the only prize in the world where entries can be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, English, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil, and Turkish.
Harley Hern said: “Winning the regional prize is a truly unexpected honour, both humbling and empowering. My small country has a giant short fiction tradition, and an increasingly diverse collection of voices. I’m thrilled the judges feel my own is good enough to add to our narrative and to that of the greater Commonwealth community. But I am also astounded. This was the only short story I wrote last year. I can’t stop screaming. Thank you, thank you Commonwealth Writers!”
The international judging panel, chaired by British novelist, playwright and essayist Caryl Phillips, have chosen the five winning stories, all written by women, from a shortlist of 21, after 5081 entries were submitted from 50 Commonwealth countries.
Caryl Phillips said: “The regional winners of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize explore a remarkably diverse range of subject-matter, including stories about war, love, abuse and neglect. What unites the stories is a common thread of narrative excellence and dramatic intensity. The voices of a truly global cast of characters enable us to engage with, and recognise, universal emotions of pain and loss.”
other regional winners are:
In Africa, Mbozi Haimbe, who was born and raised in Lusaka, Zambia, and now lives in Norfolk, UK, wins for ‘Madam’s Sister’, in which the arrival of a sister from London causes upheaval in a Zambian household.
In Asia, the Malaysian freelance writer, language and creative writing teacher Saras Manickam wins for her story ‘My Mother Pattu’. The story explores a mother’s violent jealousy and envy towards her daughter, who finds that no one can protect her from the abuse except herself.
In Canada and Europe, the Cypriot writer Constantia Soteriou wins for her story ‘Death Customs’, about mothers and wives in Cyprus who were led to believe that their loved ones were missing after the 1974 war, when the state had clear evidence of their deaths. The story was translated by Nicosia-based translator and cultural critic Lina Protopapa.
In the Caribbean, Alexia Tolas, born and raised in The Bahamas, wins for ‘Granma’s Porch’, which has her protagonist navigates the delicate border between adolescence and adulthood, guided by past traumas of her friends and family and her troubled first love.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is run by Commonwealth Writers, the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation. Commonwealth Writers develops and connects writers across the world and helps address the challenges they face in different regions. Such linguistic diversity in a short story prize in part represents the richness of the many and varied literary traditions of the Commonwealth.
Vijay Krishnarayan, Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation, said: “This year’s regional winners demonstrate the richness of new writing and it is striking that they are all women. In a world where men still dominate the literary landscape you can see the value of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in bringing less heard experiences to the fore. The stories touch on the gamut of human emotions and speak to each of us. Not only is this the world’s most global prize, it’s the world’s most relevant prize.”
The prize is judged by an international panel of writers, representing each of the five regions of the Commonwealth. The 2019 judges were the Ugandan novelist and short story writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, overall winner of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Africa); the Pakistani writer and journalist Mohammed Hanif, whose novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize (Asia); the award-winning author of speculative fiction, Karen Lord, from Barbados (Caribbean); the British short story writer Chris Power, author of the Rathbones Folio Prize-longlisted collection Mothers (Canada and Europe); and the poet, playwright, fiction writer and musician Courtney Sina Meredith, a New Zealander of Samoan, Mangaian and Irish descent (Pacific).
The five regional winners’ stories will be published online in the run-up to the announcement of the overall winner by the literary magazine Granta.
Luke Neima, Digital Director at Granta, said: “This year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize winning stories showcase the short story in a range of guises, innovations of form that stretch but never exhaust the potential of the short story to address the regional and universal questions this gifted crop of authors seeks to address. These outstanding stories capture the breadth of talent writing today across the Commonwealth.”
Following publication by Granta, the winning stories will also be published in the online magazine of Commonwealth Writers, adda (www.addastories.org).
The overall winner will be announced in Québec City on 9 July 2019.
Last year, Kevin Jared Hosein, from Trinidad and Tobago, won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for his story ‘Passage’, which convinced the jury, chaired by the novelist and poet Sarah Hall, as “a truly crafted piece of fiction” that was “immediately and uniformly admired”. In 2017, Ingrid Persaud, also from Trinidad and Tobago, won for ‘The Sweet Sop’. The story was written specifically for the prize – and went on to win the 13th BBC National Short Story Award in 2018.
Keep up to date
with the prize and join the conversation
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Notes to Editors
Mbozi Haimbe was born and raised in Lusaka, Zambia. She completed an MSt in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge in 2018, and is currently working on a collection of African inspired short stories. Mbozi lives in Norfolk with her family.
Saras Manickam is a freelance writer, language and creative writing teacher whose short stories have been published in Malaysian anthologies. She won the DK Dutt Memorial Award for Literary Excellence in 2017. She hopes to bring out a collection of short stories by the end of the year.
Constantia Soteriou was born in Nicosia in 1975. Her first novel Aishe goes on vacation (Patakis, 2015) received the Athens Prize for Literature award. Her second book Voices made of soil (Patakis, 2017) was included on the shortlist for the Cyprus Literature Awards. She has written plays for independent stages and for the Cyprus Theatre Organization.
Lina Protopapa lives in Nicosia, Cyprus, where she works as a translator and cultural critic.
Alexia Tolas was born and raised in The Bahamas. Her writing explores the intricacies of small-island life, particularly from the female perspective. She draws heavily on local folktales and mythologies in order to convey realities silenced by tradition and trauma. She is a graduate of the former College of The Bahamas and currently teaches Literature.
Harley Hern is a writer, artist and editor whose fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in various anthologies and journals. She has a Master of Creative Writing (Auckland University), is administrator for the Academy of NZ Literature (Te Whare Mātātui Aotearoa), senior editor of Geometry journal and for two years was administrator for NZ National Poetry Day. She lives on a rural block where she chainsaws firewood, fixes fences, paints bright art and trains horses.
About the Commonwealth Short Story Prize | The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is run by Commonwealth Writers, the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation. Now in its eighth year, it is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2000-5000 words). Regional winners receive £2,500 GBP and the overall winner receives £5,000 GBP. Short stories translated into English from other languages are also eligible.
Commonwealth Writers | Commonwealth Writers
develops and connects writers across the world. It believes
that well-told stories can help people make sense of events,
engage with others, and take action to bring about change.
Responsive and proactive, it is committed to tackling the
challenges faced by writers in different regions and working
with local and international partners to identify and
deliver a wide range of cultural projects.
adda, the innovative online platform
of Commonwealth Writers, is a gathering place for stories
and a space where writers and readers can talk across the
The Commonwealth Foundation is the Commonwealth’s agency for civil society that supports people’s participation in governance and development.
The shortlist in full:
‘The Bride’, Adorah Nworah (Nigeria)
‘Extinction’, Alex Latimer (South Africa)
‘The Blessing of Kali’, Irene Muchemi-Ndiritu (Kenya)
‘How to Marry an African President’, Erica Sugo Anyadike (Tanzania)
‘Madam’s Sister’, Mbozi Haimbe (Zambia)
‘Miss Coelho, English Teacher’, Kiran Doshi (India)
‘Pengap’, Lokman Hakim (Malaysia), translated by Adriana Nordin Manan (Malaysia)
‘My Mother Pattu’, Saras Manickam (Malaysia)
‘Resurrection’, Hilary Dean (Canada)
‘Death Customs’, Constantia Soteriou (Cyprus), translated by Lina Protopapa (Cyprus)
‘Deserted’, Erato Ioannou (Cyprus)
‘Amid the Winds and Snow’, Tyler Keevil (Canada)
‘The Night of Hungry Ghosts’, Sarah Evans (UK)
‘Love-life’, Nuzha Nuseibeh (UK)
‘Granma’s Porch’, Alexia Tolas (The Bahamas)
‘A Hurricane & the Price of Fish’, Shakirah Bourne (Barbados)
‘The Ol’ Higue on Market Street’, Kevin Garbaran (Guyana)
‘Oats’, Rashad Hosein (Trinidad and Tobago)
‘Bluey’, Maria Samuela (New Zealand)
‘Screaming’, Harley Hern (New Zealand)
‘Nightfall’, Emma Ashmere (Australia)