Header image, from top left: Moso Sematlane, Rémy Ngamije, Ola W Halim, Vincent Anioke and Franklyn Usouwa
The shortlist for the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, known as the world’s ‘most global literature prize’, has been announced.
The Africa region shortlist includes authors from Lesotho and Namibia for the first time, namely Moso Sematlane and Rémy Ngamije, respectively, as well as a trio of writers from Nigeria: Ola W Halim, Vincent Anioke and Franklyn Usouwa.
Moso Sematlane is a writer, filmmaker and assistant editor of Lolwe Magazine, based between Maseru, Lesotho, and Johannesburg.
Rémy Ngamije is a Rwandan-born Namibian writer and photographer, well known to JRB readers. He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Doek! Literary Magazine, and the author of the novel The Eternal Audience of One. He was shortlisted for the 2020 Caine Prize for African Writing for a story first published in The JRB.
Twenty-five stories have been shortlisted in total by an international judging panel. The writers come from fourteen countries across the Commonwealth.
Chair of judges Zoë Wicomb said the twenty-five stories, ‘often humorous and always intensely moving’, range in scope from ‘concerns with sexual identity, gender relations, animal rights’ to ‘neo-colonialism, racial exploitation and, of course, the perennial themes of love and death’.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s fifty-four member states. In addition to English, entries can be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, French, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil and Turkish.
It was a record-breaking year for entries this year. The stories on the 2021 shortlist were selected from a total of 6423 entries from fifty Commonwealth countries—a twenty-five per cent rise in entries compared to 2020.
Chair of Judges, South African writer Zoë Wicomb, said:
‘Announcements about the death of the short story may be legion, but the 2021 shortlist loudly asserts that the form is in fine fettle. It also shows that writers continue to push at the very parameters of the short story. Many have tackled difficult subjects and found fresh means of representing these with courage and sensitivity.’
She also praised the ‘novel use of local non-standard Englishes as well as inventive inscription of native languages.’ Describing the ‘range of stories from speculative fictions that address environmental and political crises to the hyper-real and the supernatural’, she added:
‘The great number of excellent submissions and the equivocal nature of aesthetic taste made for protracted discussions. It has been a privilege to participate in vigorous argument and thoughtful horse-trading as members of the judging panel generously conceded and negotiated priorities.’
2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize shortlist, by region
- ‘Tetra Hydro Cannabinol’ by Moso Sematlane (Lesotho)
- ‘Granddaughter of The Octopus’ by Rémy Ngamije (Namibia)
- ‘An Analysis of a Fragile Affair’ by Ola W Halim (Nigeria)
- ‘Ogbuefi’ by Vincent Anioke (Nigeria)
- ‘A for Abortion’ by Franklyn Usouwa (Nigeria)
- ‘The Current Climate’ by Aravind Jayan (India)
- ‘It Ends with a Kiss’ by Riddhi Dastidar (India)
- ‘Weeds’ by Ling Low (Malaysia)
- ‘Submission’ by Nur Khan (Pakistan)
- ‘I Cleaned The—’ by Kanya D’Almeida (Sri Lanka)
Canada and Europe
- ‘Starry Night’ by Cara Marks (Canada)
- ‘Class Struggle’ by Ian Stewart (Canada)
- ‘Mass Effect’ by Joshua Wales (Canada)
- ‘some words, ending in a sentence’ by phill doran (UK)
- ‘Turnstones’ by Carol Farrelly (UK)
- ‘Tourism is Our Business’ by Heather Barker (Barbados)
- ‘Genuine Human Hair’ by Sharma Taylor (Jamaica)
- ‘The Disappearance of Mumma Dell’ by Roland Watson-Grant (Jamaica)
- ‘Hunger’ by Andre Bagoo (Trinidad and Tobago)
- ‘English at the End of Time’ by Rashad Hosein (Trinidad and Tobago)
- ‘The Woman; or Euryale’ by AN King (Australia)
- ‘Rabbit’ by Samantha Lane Murphy (Australia)
- ‘Downpour’ by SJ Finn (Australia)
- ‘Fertile Soil’ by Katerina Gibson (Australia)
- ‘Carved’ by Tim Saunders (New Zealand)
Watch a video introducing the shortlist:
The 2021 judging panel, chaired by Zoë Wicomb, is made up of Nigerian writer A Igoni Barrett; Bangladeshi writer, translator and editor Khademul Islam; British poet and fiction writer Keith Jarrett; Jamaican environmental activist, award-winning writer and 2012 Caribbean regional winner Diana McCaulay; and award-winning author and 2016 Pacific regional winner Tina Makereti from New Zealand.
The 2021 shortlisted stories will be published online, in the online magazine of Commonwealth Writers, adda, which features new writing from around the globe. The judges will go on to choose a winner for each of the five regions. These regional winners will be announced on Wednesday 12 May, before being published online by the literary magazine Granta. The overall winner will be announced on Wednesday 30 June.
Kritika Pandey won the 2020 edition of the prize for her story ‘The Great Indian Tee and Snakes’.