2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Regional Winners Announced
- Authors from Eswatini, Singapore and St Vincent and the Grenadines win for the first time
- Judges praise ‘cornucopia of riches’ as stories cover ambitious range of topics
- Environmental and social justice themes dominate
Social and environmental issues inspire the regional winners of the world’s most global literary prize, announced today by the Commonwealth Foundation. Five short-story writers from Eswatini, Fiji, Jamaica, Singapore and St Vincent and the Grenadines, ranging in age from 29 to 69, are recognised for stories that tackle an ambitious range of themes including political upheaval, violence, and ordinary people’s struggle to survive against almost impossible odds. They also tell of the compassion and unexpected friendships that can arise in the unlikeliest of places. Environmental catastrophe is a key theme in two of the winning stories, which range in genres between literary and historical fiction, speculative fiction and crime.
As the Chair of the judges, Fred D’Aguiar, put it, ‘If a reader harboured any doubt about whether fiction is relevant to today’s world these stories answer with a riposte that resonates beyond a resounding “yes.”’
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize, which is administered by the Commonwealth Foundation, is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 54 Member States. It is the most accessible and international of all writing competitions: in addition to English, entries can be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, Creole, French, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil, and Turkish.
The international judging panel, chaired by Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar, has chosen the five winning stories from a shortlist of 26. This year’s award saw a record number of 6,730 entries from 52 Commonwealth countries.
The winning stories are:
Africa: ‘and the earth drank deep’ by Ntsika Kota (Eswatini)
Asia: ‘The Last Diver on Earth’ by Sofia Mariah Ma (Singapore)
Canada and Europe: ‘A Hat for Lemer’ by Cecil Browne (United Kingdom/St Vincent and the Grenadines)
Caribbean: ‘Bridge over the Yallahs River’ by Diana McCaulay (Jamaica)
Pacific: ‘The Nightwatch’ by Mary Rokonadravu (Fiji)
‘and the earth drank deep’ by Ntsika Kota (Eswatini)
A tale from the distant past of our species; of a day when cold blood flowed for the first time, and the earth drank deep. About the author: Born in Mbabane, Eswatini, Ntsika Kota is a chemist by training. A self-taught writer, he was originally inspired by a high school writing assignment. Ntsika’s work is a reflection of his thoughts and feelings, and he enjoys creating that reflection.
‘The Last Diver on Earth’ by Sofia Mariah Ma (Singapore)
In a climate-ravaged future, a young freediver retraces her mother's final dive off the coast of the Lesser Sunda Islands to uncover the cause of her death. About the author: Sofia Mariah Ma is a Singaporean writer. She recently placed second in the 2021 Golden Point Award and published her short story in the cli-fi anthology, And Lately, the Sun. She holds an MA in English Literature, examining the works of Kazuo Ishiguro and his experimentations with genre. Currently, she is working on a young adult novel inspired by her Javanese origins.
Canada and Europe
‘A Hat for Lemer’ by Cecil Browne (United Kingdom/St Vincent and the Grenadines)
The story of a woman who is faced with a dilemma after Emancipation. When an estate owner Noah Brisbane implores her to find a missing Methodist minister new to the island, she has to decide whether to accept the task. The finder’s fee could build a house for herself and one for her parents, but can she ignore who Brisbane is and what he represents? About the author: Cecil Browne was born in St Vincent and the Grenadines, but has lived in the UK since his teens. A college lecturer in Maths for over 35 years, he loves cricket, writing and music. His short story, ‘Coming Off the Long Run’, was published in the So Many Islands anthology in 2018. He has just finished writing his debut novel.
‘Bridge over the Yallahs River’ by Diana McCaulay (Jamaica)
A story about the impacts of short term construction work by overseas crews on community life in Jamaica, illustrated by the wrenching choices a father must make between his ability to earn and his daughter’s health. About the author: Diana McCaulay is a Jamaican environmental activist and writer. She has written five novels — Dog-Heart, Huracan (Peepal Tree Press), Gone to Drift (Papillote Press and HarperCollins), White Liver Gal (self-published) and Daylight Come (Peepal Tree Press). She was the Caribbean regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2012, for ‘The Dolphin Catchers’. She is also on the editorial board of Pree, an online magazine for Caribbean writing.
‘The Nightwatch’ by Mary Rokonadravu (Fiji)
A story about the plight of ordinary people within the machinations of capitalism and Christian fundamentalism, the effect these influences have on indigenous peoples and their responses to national and global events—and a story about unlikely sources of compassion. It tells the tale of a group of unrelated individuals drawn together through a series of events involving mining, marginal employment, sex work, and the baking of bread against the backdrop of a coup and the rise of a Christian prophetess. About the author: Mary Rokonadravu is a Fijian writer of mixed indigenous Fijian, indentured Indian, and settler European heritage. She won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for the Pacific region in 2015 and was shortlisted in 2017. Her short stories have been published by Granta and adda, and included in anthologies by the University of London Press, and Penguin Random House New Zealand (Vintage).
Chair of the Judges, Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar said, ‘This year’s regional winners offer a cornucopia of riches for readers globally from sources located around the world. These stories testify to the varied tones of fiction, from the oblique to the direct reference, with moments of character illumination to those associated with an imperiled planet. If a reader harboured any doubt about whether fiction is relevant to today’s world these stories answer with a riposte that resonates beyond a resounding “yes.” These stories fulfil a higher function as exemplars of the short story form: vibrant, memorable and indispensable.’
Fred D’Aguiar is joined on the judging panel by five judges, drawn from the five regions of the Commonwealth. They are Rwandan publisher Louise Umutoni-Bower (Africa), Indian short story writer and novelist Jahnavi Barua (Asia), Cypriot writer and academic Stephanos Stephanides (Canada and Europe), Trinidadian novelist and former winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize Kevin Jared Hosein (Caribbean), and Australian Wiradjuri writer, poet and academic Jeanine Leane (Pacific).
The five regional winners’ stories will be published online by the literary magazine Granta, ahead of the announcement of the overall winner.
Luke Neima, Managing Director and Deputy Editor of Granta magazine says, ‘The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is a leading light in the discovery and promotion of literary excellence from across the world, providing a forum for aspiring talent that, year after year, showcases stories of singular depth and range. The stories that have been selected for this year’s shortlist delight, surprise, and bring vividly to life the cultural richness and diversity of the Commonwealth. It is a great pleasure to be able to feature the regional winners once again on Granta.com.’