Regional Winners of 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize challenge notions of identity, place and society in "extraordinary" short fiction

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Five short stories tackling issues from abortion to transgender identity, from religion to mental illness have been chosen as the regional winners for the world’s most global literary prize. The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from the Commonwealth.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, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, and Tamil.

The international judging panel, chaired by the novelist and poet Sarah Hall, has chosen the winners from a shortlist of 24, with 5182 stories submitted from 48 Commonwealth countries.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is run by Commonwealth Writers, which develops and connects writers across the world and tackles the challenges they face in different regions. Commonwealth Writers is the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation, whose

Director-General, Vijay Krishnarayan, said of this year’s winners: “ These remarkable stories are testament to the vitality and range of writing from around the Commonwealth, to the importance of a truly international prize: one that works across linguistic and cultural boundaries.”

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Sarah Hall said: “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 marvellous 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.”

  • The Nigerian-German writer Efua Traoré, who grew up in a little town in the south of Nigeria, wins in Africa with a first person narrative that sees a 13-year-old boy wrestle with the question of what it means to find True Happiness.
  • Jenny Bennet-Tuionetoa, a human rights advocate and LGBTQIA activist from Samoa, is being awarded in the Pacific region for Matalasi, a story that covers the lifetime of a young transgender man, set on the day of his agreed wedding – as a woman.
  • In Passage, Kevin Jared Hosein, who also won the Caribbean regional prize in 2015, sends his midlife crisis-ridden protagonist into the wilderness in search for a mystery woman – with unforeseen consequences for others, and for himself.
  • The British writer and former videogame producer Lynda Clark is being awarded in Europe for Ghillie’s Mum –  a  surrealist take  on  a  mother and son relationship that explores mental illness in   a fresh and unusual way.
  • In Asia, the regional prize goes to Sagnik Datta, a writer from Siliguri, India, for The Divine Pregnancy in a Twelve Year Old Woman, which sees a small village confronted with the mother’s decision not to bear the child of God.

The prize is judged by an international panel of  writers, representing each of  the  five  regions of the Commonwealth. The 2018 judges are Damon Galgut (Africa), Sunila Galappatti (Asia), Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm (Canada and Europe), Mark McWatt (Caribbean), and Paula Morris (Pacific).

Representing linguistic diversity and the richness of varied literary traditions, the five winning stories are a showcase of some of the best talent at work across the Commonwealth right now.

Efua Traoré said:

“Africa - and in particular Nigeria - has the most amazing story-tellers. This prize gives me the humbling feeling of being part of something great. I am truly honoured.” 

Jenny Bennet-Tuionetoa said:

“Winning the regional prize is the highlight of my writing career so far and I am sincerely grateful to the judges for their decision. The prize has brought ‘Matalasi’ and the very real issues that it deals with to the attention of an international audience. 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.”

Kevin Jared Hosein said:

“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.”

Lynda Clark said:

“I’m stunned, honoured and delighted to have been awarded the regional prize. 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.”

Sagnik Datta said:

“Winning the regional prize feels pretty great! It 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.” 

The prize partners with the quarterly literary magazine Granta, which will publish all regional winner stories online, starting today, featuring one story a week on a Wednesday.

Luke Neima, Granta’s Online Editor, said:

“Granta magazine is delighted to be introducing the storytellers and writers who have been awarded the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize to our readers. 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 around the world.” 

The overall winner of the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize will be announced at a ceremony in Cyprus on 25 July 2018. Keep up to date with the prize and join the conversation via: www.commonwealthwriters.org | twitter.com/cwwriters

For all media enquiries please contact Daniel Kramb and Ashton Bainbridge at FMcM Associates on 0207 405 7422 or danielk@fmcm.co.uk, ashtonb@fmcm.co.uk

Notes to Editors

About the Authors

Africa | Efua Traoré (Nigeria) is a Nigerian-German writer who grew up in a little town in the south of Nigeria. For as long as she can remember, her head was always filled with little stories, but it was not until her late twenties that she discovered her passion for writing them down. After winning a Glimmer Train prize for the first 1.000 words of a novel she wrote her first book.

Asia |Sagnik Datta (India) is from Siliguri, India. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Texas at Austin, and a degree in Engineering Physics from Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (although he’s not sure where he has kept it). He’s currently working on a novel.

Canada and Europe | Lynda Clark (UK) is a writer and former videogame producer. She’s currently combining these two interests by undertaking a PhD in interactive narrative at Nottingham Trent University. Her short stories often get described as ‘strange’ and have appeared in several collections from small independent presses. Most recently, her story ‘Grandma’s Feast Day’ was shortlisted for the 2017 Cambridge Short Story Prize.

Caribbean | Kevin Jared Hosein (Trinidad & Tobago) is the author of three books, The Beast of Kukuyo (Burt Award for Caribbean Literature), The Repenters (OCM Bocas Prize for Fiction shortlist) and Littletown Secrets. He is the 2015 Caribbean regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and has been twice shortlisted for the Small Axe Prize for Prose. His work has been featured in numerous publications, such as Lightspeed, Adda and most recently, We Mark Your Memory: Writing from the Descendants of Indenture. 

Pacific | Jenny Bennet-Tuionetoa (Samoa) is a human rights advocate who seeks to use writing as a means of raising awareness about LGBTQIA issues in the Pacific Islands. She was born and raised in Samoa where she currently lives with her two young daughters.

About the Commonwealth Short Story Prize

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is part of Commonwealth Writers, the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation. Now in its seventh year, it is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2000-5000 words). Regional winners receive £2,500 and the overall winner receives £5,000. Short stories translated into English from other languages are also eligible.

About 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. www.commonwealthwriters.org

About the Commonwealth Foundation

The Commonwealth Foundation is the Commonwealth’s agency for civil society. It supports people’s participation in democracy and development. www.commonwealthfoundation.com

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)

For all media enquiries please contact Daniel Kramb and Ashton Bainbridge at FMcM Associates on 0207 405 7422 or danielk@fmcm.co.uk, ashtonb@fmcm.co.uk