New Zealander Himali McInnes Is Pacific Winner, 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Credit: Original article can be found here

The Commonwealth
Foundation has announced the regional winners of the
world’s most global literary prize.

New Zealander
Himali McInnes has won the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story
Prize (Pacific). The 49-year-old, who lives in Auckland,
beat off strong competition from four other shortlisted
writers: Dennis Kikira from Papua New Guinea as well as
Australians Jean Flynn, Janeen Samuel and Emma Sloley. She
will go through to the final round of judging and the
overall winner will be announced on 27

McInnes’s winning story, ‘Kilinochchi’, is
set during an especially bloody time in Sri Lanka’s civil
war. Nisha, the protagonist, an up-country Tamil tea-picker,
comes from a long line of indentured labourers. She marries
a New Zealander and moves there with her son – who later
returns to Sri Lanka to take up arms with the Tamil Tigers.
Desperate to find her child Nisha follows him to into the
war zone, in Kilinochchi in northern Sri

McInnes says, ‘“Kilinochchi” draws on the
disparate themes of civil war, indentured servitude, the
formation of identity, and the supernatural. It is a story
that just spilled out of me; once the person of Nisha
appeared in my mind, the rest followed, and I couldn’t
stop writing. I particularly enjoyed writing about Nisha’s
ghostly relatives and the freedom they have in the

McInnes adds, ‘The way the past
affects us is something that I am constantly aware of, both
in my writing and in my day job as a doctor. The narrative
of this story is influenced by my identity as a Sri Lankan
New Zealander who doesn’t feel fully at home in either
country. It is also influenced by the sadness I feel over
the blood that has been shed on Lankan soil. Although I have
lived most of my life outside Sri Lanka, I worked there from
2007-2009 during the last stages of the brutal civil war. So
many atrocities, so many unhealed wounds.’

The judge
representing the Pacific region, New Zealand’s former Poet
Laureate Dr. Selina Tusitala Marsh, says, ‘Nothing is ever
simple, nothing is ever straight forward – except a
mother’s unwavering desire to find her child. Crossing
continents, moving through cultural collisions, and chaotic
inner and outer journeys of human trauma and resilience,
Himali McInnes’ ‘Kilinochchi’ moves between New
Zealand and Sri Lanka, Tamil and Sinhala, the living who
repel, and the dead who guide.’ She praised ‘an
unforgettable story that explores family loyalty, gender,
class and social inequity, war, life in the diaspora, and
our fundamental need to belong. We discover that what can
never be stolen, destroyed or lost, is love.’

story was selected as the regional winner for the Pacific by
an international judging panel chaired by Pakistani writer
and translator Bilal Tanweer, representing the five regions
of the Commonwealth. The regional judges are Rwandan-born
writer, photographer and editor, Rémy Ngamije (Africa), Sri
Lankan author and publisher Ameena Hussein (Asia),
British-Canadian author Katrina Best (Canada and Europe),
Saint Lucian poet and novelist Mac Donald Dixon (Caribbean),
and New Zealand’s former Poet Laureate, Dr. Selina
Tusitala Marsh (Pacific).

judges’ photographs and biographies here

of the Judges Bilal Tanweer had this to say about the
judging process: ‘It was both an agony and a pleasure to
choose the overall winner from each region. All of the
winning stories demonstrated impressive ambition and deep
love for storytelling, combined with an intimate
understanding of place and a real mastery of the craft. The
judges were unanimous in their admiration of these stories
and how they sought to tackle difficult metaphysical and
historical questions.’

The Commonwealth Short Story
Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished
short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 56 Member
States. This year 6,642 entries were submitted for the
award. 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. Such
linguistic diversity in a short story prize reflects in part
the richness of the Commonwealth, not least its many and
varied literary traditions. In 2023, 475 entries were
submitted in languages other than English.

The full
list of regional winners is as follows:

Africa: ‘The
Undertaker’s Apprentice’ by Hana Gammon (South
Asia: ‘Oceans Away from my Homeland’ by Agnes
Chew (Singapore)
Canada and Europe: ‘Lech, Prince, and
the Nice Things’ by Rue Baldry (UK)
‘Ocoee’ by Kwame McPherson (Jamaica)
‘Kilinochchi’ by Himali McInnes (New Zealand)

authors’ photographs and biographies here

five regional winners’ stories will be published online by
the literary magazine Granta, ahead of the
announcement of the overall winner.

Granta’s Deputy
Editor and Managing Director Luke Neima says, ‘We’re
thrilled to be publishing the regional winners of the 2023
Commonwealth Short Story Prize at Granta. Year after
year the prize has put a spotlight on extraordinary new
talents working across the Commonwealth, and this cohort is
one of exceptional promise and talent.’

As part of the
Commonwealth Foundation’s partnership with The London
Library, the overall winner receives two years’ Full
Membership to the Library and the regional winners receive a
year’s Full Membership.

The 2023 overall winner
will be announced in an online ceremony at 1pm BST, Tuesday
27 June.

Be the first to know the overall winner of
the prize by following @cwfcreatives on Facebook,
and Instagram
and keep up to date with the prize via


Himali McInnes

Himali McInnes works as a family doctor
in a busy Auckland practice and in the prison system. She is
a constant gardener, a chicken farmer, and a beekeeper.
Himali writes short stories, essays, flash fiction and
poetry, and has been published in various journals and
anthologies. Her non-fiction book The Unexpected
was published in 2021.

About Dr.
Selina Tusitala Marsh (Judge representing the Pacific

Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FRSNZ) is the
former Commonwealth Poet, New Zealand Poet Laureate and
acclaimed performer and author. In 2019 she was made an
Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services
to poetry, literature and the Pacific community. In 2020
Selina was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New
Zealand. Selina lectures in the English Department at the
University of Auckland where she teaches Pacific Literature
and Creative Writing. She has published three critically
acclaimed collections of poetry, Fast Talking PI
(2009), Dark Sparring (2013), and Tightrope
(2017). Her graphic memoir, Mophead (2019), won the
Margaret Mahy Supreme Book in the 2020 NZ Book Awards for
Children and Young Adults and won the PANZ Best Book Design
for 2020. Its sequel, Mophead TU: The Queen’s Poem
was shortlisted for the NZ Book Awards (2021). She has just
completed Mophead: KNOT Book 3 and is working on a
genre-bending graphic poetry anthology on first wave Pacific
women poets from 16 Pacific Island nations.

the Commonwealth Short Story Prize

The Commonwealth
Short Story Prize is administered by the Commonwealth
Foundation. The prize 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.

the Commonwealth Foundation

The Commonwealth
Foundation is an intergovernmental organisation established
by Heads of Government in support of the belief that the
Commonwealth is as much an association of peoples as it is
of governments. It is the Commonwealth agency for civil
society; an organisation dedicated to strengthening
people’s participation in all aspects of public dialogue,
so they can act together and learn from each other to build
free, open and democratic societies.