Madrid’s ‘Desperate Literature’ Short Fiction Prize: Paige Cowan-Hall

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The fourth outing of the award produced by the Desperate Literature bookshop in Madrid features work centered on colonial oppression.

Boats in Madrid’s Retiro Park, July 29. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Domingo

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

This Year’s Prize Money Increased to €1,500
We continue to recoup awards program news from the spring and early summer, when publishing and book prize programs collided on their dates in many markets of world publishing.

In Madrid, as Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize this year announced a “revitalized package” for winners, increasing its purse to €1,500 (US$1,769). The best part of this program’s award remains a seven-day artist’s residency at Umbria’s Civitella Ranieri.

Two runners-up have received €750 each (US$884). There’s also a consultation with an agent from Andrew Nurnberg Associates for the winner and runners-up.

This year, the program also is to have added a 10-day residency for one of its shortlisted writers at the Writers’ House of Georgia in Tbilisi. Katie Hale is the writer this year given the Tbilisi residency, with a €400 stipend (US$471).

The program, which is produced by Madrid’s Desperate Literature bookshop, works with literary journal-partners, which are given the chance to publish work from the shortlist.

The 2020 prize was won by Ireland’s Angela Finn.

The 2019 winner, Francesca Reece was signed by Nurnberg Associates, as it has turned out, and came out with a two-book deal with Hachette’s Tinder Press. The upshot there has been publication in June of Reece’s Voyeur.

The Desperate Literature project actually has stores in Santorini (Atlantis Books) and Brooklyn (Book Thug Nation) and (Human Relations). The people behind the project are Craig Walzer, Corey Eastwood, Charlotte Delattre and Terry Craven. The stores’ inventories are focused on work in English, Spanish, and French.

Desperate Literature’s 2021 Honors

In its fourth year, the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize has named Paige Cowan-Hall its winner for the story “Ohenemaa,” in which colonial oppression “is explored through a subtle power play between an ‘overseer’ and an ‘obeah,’ or West Indies faith healer.

This year’s runners-up are Nick Mulgrew for the story “Section 22” and Isha Karki for “An Account of the [War Heroines] of the First Independence War [by An Unnamed Soldier].”

Paige Cowan-Hall

This year’s Desperate Literature Prize was judged by Ottessa Moshfegh, Derek Owusu and Isabel Waidner.

In a comment on the selection of Cowan-Hall’s work, Waidner is quoted, saying, “I loved reading the shortlist selection which realizes the Desperate Literature team’s ambition to reimagine and diversify contemporary writing. The stories represented are inquisitive, irreverential, critical, and fully committed to their respective creative projects. I’ve never been more hopeful for the future of fiction, and the Desperate Literature Prize plays no small part in this.

“The winning story,” Waidner says, “combines ancient mythologies and obeah practices with an acute critique of racial oppression. In other words, it’s doing what we mean when we say it’s doing ‘the work.’”

Additional shortlisted stories from the 2021 cycle:

  •  “A Certain Degree of Ownership” by Jan Carson
  •  “After Western Deep” by Jack Gain
  •  “Cables” by Phillippa Finkemeyer
  •  “Gannin Hyem” by Victoria Manifold
  •  “Raise, or How to Break Free of the Ground, or the Lakeland Dialect for ‘Slippery’ is ‘Slape’ and To Form It in the Mouth Requires an Act of Falling” by Katie Hale
  •  “Skullseeds” by Samuel Glyn
  •  “Spread” by Campbell Andersen
  •  “Two Different Decembers” by Erin Scudder

More about the Desperate Literature store and its prize is here.

Image: Desperate Literature


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Spanish market is here. More from us on publishing and book prizes is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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