Regional Winners of Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2023

Credit: Original article can be found here

The Commonwealth
Foundation has announced that five ‘gripping’ stories
tackling ‘difficult metaphysical and historical
questions’ have won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize,
the world’s most global literary prize.

The
writers—who hail from Jamaica, New Zealand, Singapore,
South Africa, and the United Kingdom—are recognised for
stories which range from literary fiction to historical and
speculative fiction.

The stories address a rich
diversity of themes: from exploitation to subversive acts of
rebellion, cultural displacement, the balance of life and
death, the world of adults as viewed by children, and the
pull of family ties across the globe and through the
generations. The judges remarked on the strong sense of
place in all the stories—with locations featuring a
building site in Britain, a German oncology clinic ‘oceans
away’ from the narrator’s homeland, and a war-torn town
in Sri Lanka.

Two stories are based on historical
events: ‘Ocoee’ is named after a town in Florida where,
in November 1920, a group of African Americans were
massacred in a brutal, racially aggravated attack.
‘Kilinochchi’ in northern Sri Lanka is the setting for a
story in which a mother searches for her son who is fighting
in the Sri Lankan civil war. These stories tackle painful
themes unflinchingly and show how love and human warmth can
thrive in the most unlikely of places.

Chair 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 the winning stories
demonstrated impressive ambition, 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 international judging panel chose the five
winning stories from a shortlist of 28.

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best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the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’s award saw a
total of 6,642 entries including, for the first time, Togo,
and Gabon—the very newest Member States of the
Commonwealth.

The prize 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 in part reflects 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 winning stories
are:

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

Africa

‘The Undertaker’s
Apprentice’ by Hana Gammon (South Africa)

‘The
Undertaker’s Apprentice’ follows a group of children in a
small town, relaying their interactions with the town’s
sombre but kind mortician. As the children grow up, they are
forced to question issues of growth, decay, and exchange
between different states of being.

About the author:
20-year-old student Hana Gammon was born in Cape Town, South
Africa, and has had a love for writing ever since she could
first pick up a pen. She is currently studying for a BA in
Language and Culture at the University of
Stellenbosch.

Asia

‘Oceans Away from my
Homeland’ by Agnes Chew (Singapore)

‘Oceans Away
from my Homeland’ is about a woman’s struggle to
confront the perceived changes in her life—both of and
beyond her own making.

About the author: 34-year-old
Agnes Chew is the author of Eternal Summer of My
Homeland
(forthcoming from Epigram Books) and The
Desire for Elsewhere
(Math Paper Press, 2016). Her work
has appeared in Necessary Fiction, Wildness Journal,
and NonBinary Review, among others. She holds a
Master’s degree in international development from the
London School of Economics. Born and raised in Singapore,
she is currently based in Germany.

Canada and
Europe

‘Lech, Prince, and the Nice Things’ by Rue
Baldry (UK)

A young Black plasterer, drawn to
committing petty acts of revenge against his employer’s
neglected possessions, risks becoming more diminished than
those status symbols.

About the author: Rue Baldry is
a British author. She lives in York, has a Creative Writing
MA from Leeds University, was a Bridge Awards Emerging
Writer, Jerwood/Arvon mentee and Women’s Prize Discoveries
longlistee. She has published stories in Ambit, Mslexia,
Fairlight Shorts, Litro, Honest Ulsterman, MIR
, and
The First Line. Her work has placed in several
competitions, including coming second in the Yeovil Prize.
Her debut novel, Dwell, is currently on
submission.

Caribbean

‘Ocoee’ by Kwame
McPherson (Jamaica)

The story is an interweaving of
African American reality and history, and Caribbean
folklore.

About the author: a past student at London
Metropolitan University and University of Westminster, Kwame
McPherson is a 2007 Poetic Soul winner and was the first
Jamaican Flash Fiction Bursary Awardee for The Bridport
Prize: International Creative Writing Competition in 2020. A
prolific writer, Kwame is a recent and successful
contributor to Flame Tree Publishing’s (UK)
diverse-writing anthologies and a contributor to ‘The
Heart of a Black Man’
anthology to be published in Los
Angeles, which tells personal, inspiring, uplifting, and
empowering stories from influential and powerful Black
men.

Pacific

‘Kilinochchi’ by Himali
McInnes (New Zealand)

‘Kilinochchi’ is set during
an especially bloody time in Sri Lanka’s civil war. The
protagonist, an up-country Tamil tea-picker, comes from a
long line of indentured labourers.

About the author:
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 Patient was published
in 2021.

Download
authors’ photographs and biographies here

Bilal
Tanweer chairs this year’s panel of judges, each
representing the five regions of the Commonwealth. These 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).

Download
judges’ photographs and biographies here

The
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,
Twitter
and Instagram
and keep up to date with the prize via commonwealthfoundation.com/short-story-prize/

ENDS

About
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.

About
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. commonwealthfoundation.com