[The JRB Daily] 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize regional winners announced—including Rwandan-born Namibian author Rémy Ngamije

Header image: Rémy Ngamije (Namibia), Roland Watson-Grant (Jamaica), Kanya D’Almeida (Sri Lanka), Carol Farrelly (UK), Katerina Gibson (Australia)

The regional winners of the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize—known as the ‘world’s most global literary prize’—have been announced.

Rwandan-born Namibian author Rémy Ngamije has won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Africa) for his story ‘Granddaughter of The Octopus’.

Ngamije is a writer 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

He was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, Africa region, alongside Moso Sematlane from Lesotho and Nigerian writers Ola W Halim, Vincent Anioke and Franklyn Usouwa.

Africa judge A Igoni Barrett says:

‘“Granddaughter of the Octopus” is a psychologically astute portrait of a larger-than-life character whose rollicking essence is distilled into the reader’s imagination through concise prose, yes, and poetic detail, yes again. But there’s also that extra magic of the writer who wields metaphor like a whip cracking at untamed life. The unforgettable matriarch of this bittersweet tale is audacious, indecorous, and unabashedly sensual, all of which, and much, much more—I must add hilarious—are captured in a voice both raw and tender as a welt. To quote the story’s narrator, “The past always wins.” But the future, in the transfiguring writing of Rémy Ngamije, is winning this time.’

Commenting on his win, Ngamije says:

‘To win for the Africa region is unexpected and humbling; I am honoured to join the likes of Innocent Chizaram, Faraaz Mohamed, Lesley Nneka Arimah, and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi—writers whose works and unfolding careers continue to inspire me. It is my hope this recognition encourages more writers from my home country, and those from less established literary traditions, to continue their writing journeys, to find the courage, patience and confidence needed to participate in this intercontinental community of storytelling.’

Ngamije’s story was selected from the twenty-five stories on the five regional shortlists by the international judging panel, chaired by South African writer Zoë Wicomb. The other panellists are 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.

Ngamije now goes through to the final round of judging. The overall winner of the prize will be announced on 30 June 2021.

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.

2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize regional winners

  • Africa: ‘Granddaughter of The Octopus’ by Rémy Ngamije (Namibia)
  • Asia: ‘I Cleaned The—’ by Kanya D’Almeida (Sri Lanka)
  • Canada and Europe: ‘Turnstones’ by Carol Farrelly (UK)
  • Caribbean: ‘The Disappearance of Mumma Dell’ by Roland Watson-Grant (Jamaica)
  • Pacific: ‘Fertile Soil’ by Katerina Gibson (Australia)

The five regional winners’ stories will be published online by the literary magazine Granta in the run-up to the announcement of the overall winner and published in a special print edition by Paper + Ink.

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