Commonwealth Prize Regional Winners: Samoa, Trinidad, UK, India, and Nigeria

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Taking on topics from mental illness to abortion, and from happiness to love, the Commonwealth Prize regional short story winners contend next for the overall award.

Clockwise from upper left, the 2018 regional winners of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize are Effua Traoré, Sagnik Datta, Kevin Jared, Lynda Clark, and Jenny Bennet-Tuioneto. Images provided by CW Short Story Prize

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Imaginative and Stylistic Diversity’
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize—perhaps one of the lesser known of a crowded awards season—is designed to recognize unpublished short fiction from the 53 member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, most of them former territories, of course, of the British Empire.

Its organizers say that, as such, it’s the only award program in which entries can be put forward in Bengali, Chinese, English, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, and Tamil.

A panel of jurors led by poet and novelist Sarah Hall has selected winners from a shortlist of 24, which was selected from a remarkable 5,182 submissions from 48 of the Commonwealth countries.

Sarah Hall

In a prepared comment, Hall is quoted, saying, “Each of the winning regional stories speaks strongly for itself in extraordinary prose, and speaks for and beyond its region, often challenging notions of identity, place and society.

“Individually, the stories exhibit marvelous imaginative and stylistic diversity; together, they remind us that our deeper human concerns and conundrums are shared, and that the short story form is uniquely adept at offering the reader a world in which she or he might feel a sense both of belonging and un-belonging, might question his or her understanding of the world.”

What’s being announced today (June 27) is a list of five regional winners, and from that list the overall winner will be named at an event on Cyprus on July 25.

Those five regions and their winners are:

  • Africa: A Nigerian-German writer, Efua Traoré, wins with a first-person narrative  for True Happiness, about a 13-year-old boy who works to understand the actual nature of contentment. In response to the news of her win, Traoré is quoted, saying, “This prize gives me the humbling feeling of being part of something great.”
  • Pacific: Jenny Bennet-Tuionetoa, a human rights advocate and LGBTQIA activist from Samoa, is being awarded for Matalasi, about a young transgender man who is to be married, as a woman. Speaking about the re10ognition, Bennet-Tuionetoa says, “As an advocate for human rights, this is a significant step towards realizing my dream of using my writing to help raise awareness about the struggles of LGBTQIA people in the Pacific Islands.”
  • Caribbean; Kevin Jared Hosein, who has won the Caribbean regional prize once before, in 2015, wins again for Passage in which a crisis-ridden protagonist searches for a mystery woman. In his statement on winning, Hosein writes, “Trinidad and Tobago writes itself. It writes loudly and quietly at the same time. Loudly, because it likes to boast of its best and worst parts. Quietly, because it thinks nobody cares to listen. This win, along with the many voices year after year whom have shortlisted and won for this little twin-island nation, is reinforced proof that people out there are entertained by our stories, derive meaning and relevance from them, and are moved by them. It is proof that people care to listen.”
  • Europe and Canada: The British writer and former videogame producer Lynda Clark wins this regional prize for her story, Ghillie’s Mum, which is described as exploring mental illness “in a fresh and unusual way.” And Clark responds to the regional award, “It feels like validation for all the years spent chipping away with my strange little stories, but it’s also a bit scary that people will now be able to see into my weird brain.”
  • Asia: The regional prize goes to India’s Sagnik Datta from Siliguri for The Divine Pregnancy in a Twelve Year Old Woman, in which a village woman declines to bear the child of God. Datta’s statement: “[The regional prize] provides validation, motivation, and some recognition. I’m also really excited about having my story published. Like any writer, I want my work to be read, and now hopefully my work will reach more people than before.”

These regional winners’ stories are to be published, one on each of five Wednesdays beginning today, by Granta online.

In a prepared statement, Granta online editor Luke Neima is quoted, saying, “This year’s selection introduces exciting emerging talents from around the world, writers who bring to their readers a thrilling and essential glimpse of the tradition, culture and vibrancy of life across the Commonwealth.

“Here is a rich new seam of voices, ideas, and talent from [many parts of] the world.”

The jury comprises:

  • Damon Galgut, for Africa—his In a Strange Room was on the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction shortlist
  • Sunila Galappatti, for Asia
  • Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, for Canada and Europe
  • Mark McWattCaribbean, for the Caribbean
  • Paula Morris, for the Pacific

The organizers of the award program are the Commonwealth Foundation and Commonwealth Writers.

And here is the 2018 shortlist in full:

  • “Dancing with Ma”, Harriet Anena (Uganda)
  • “Matalasi”, Jenny Bennett-Tuionetoa (Samoa)
  • “An Elephant in Kingston”, Marcus Bird (Jamaica)
  • “Tahiti”, Brendan Bowles (Canada)
  • “Ghillie”s Mum”, Lynda Clark (United Kingdom)
  • “Goat”, Sally Craythorne (United Kingdom)
  • “The Divine Pregnancy in a Twelve-Year-Old Woman”, Sagnik Datta (India)
  • “Soundtracker”, Christopher Evans (Canada)
  • “Passage”, Kevin Hosein (Trinidad and Tobago)
  • “Jyamitik Zadukor” (The Geometric Wizard) by Imran Khan (Bangladesh), translated by Arunava Sinha
  • “Talk of The Town”, Fred Khumalo (South Africa)
  • “Night Fishing”, Karen Kwek (Singapore)
  • “Nobody”s Wife”, Chris Mansell (Australia)
  • “The Boss”, Breanne Mc Ivor (Trinidad and Tobago)
  • “Holding On, Letting Go”, Sandra Norsen (Australia)
  • “Empathy,” Cheryl Ntumy (Ghana)
  • “A Girl Called Wednesday”, Kritika Pandey (India)
  • “Chicken Boy”, Lynne Robertson (New Zealand)
  • “Hitler Hates You”, Michelle Sacks (South Africa)
  • “After the Fall”, James Smart (United Kingdom)
  • “Son Son”s Birthday”, Sharma Taylor (Jamaica)
  • “Berlin Lends a Hand”, Jonathan Tel (United Kingdom)
  • “True Happiness”, Efua Traoré (Nigeria)
  • “Juju”, Obi Umeozor (Nigeria)

More from Publishing Perspectives on literary awards is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.

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