Header image: Africa Region shortlistees Buke Abduba, Josiah Mbote, HB Asari, Michael Boyd, Hana Gammon, Matshediso Radebe
The shortlist for the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, known as the world’s ‘most global literature prize’, has been announced.
The Africa shortlist includes six writers nominated for the first time—three from South Africa, two from Kenya and one from Nigeria. Their stories, according to the prize, feature ‘well-drawn characters, including a stand-up comic and an undertaker’.
The twenty-eight shortlisted stories come from nineteen countries across the Commonwealth, and tackle subjects ranging from fable to family drama, a range of themes from violence and war to environmental damage, love and loss to unexpected friendships, and span genres from speculative and comic fiction to historical fiction and crime.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for ‘the best piece of unpublished short fiction’ from any of the Commonwealth’s fifty-six member states. Unlike most writing competitions, entries can be submitted in a diversity of languages, including English, Bengali, Chinese, Creole, French, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil and Turkish.
In 2023, 475 entries were submitted in languages other than English. The stories on this year’s shortlist were selected from over 6,600 entries from fifty-six countries including, for the first time, Togo and Gabon—the newest members of the Commonwealth.
The shortlisted writers—ten men and eighteen women—range in age from twenty to seventy-four. The youngest shortlisted writer, Hana Gammon, studies at the University of Stellenbosch. A quarter of the shortlistees are still in their twenties.
Chair of judges, Pakistani writer and translator Bilal Tanweer, says:
‘This year’s shortlist is a concert of voices from across the Commonwealth, showcasing the richness of its writing traditions, histories, and perspectives. These stories brim with the energy and urgency of the present moment—read them to experience the beat and pulse of contemporary storytelling.
‘These stories perform the essential function of the best fiction: they make us see what we couldn’t see, awaken our sympathies for people we didn’t know, and bring us closer to the world we already inhabit. What we see here are writers, who with their varied styles and strategies, stretch our sense of the real.
‘These stories, like music, go clean through our gut and spine, filling us with sensations ranging from dysphoric anguish to euphoric laughter, and after reading each story, we wake up to the world, changed.’
2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize shortlist
- ‘Price Tags’ by Buke Abduba (Kenya)
- ‘Punching Lines’ by Josiah Mbote (Kenya)
- ‘Arboretum’ by HB Asari (Nigeria)
- ‘Mama Blue’ by Michael Boyd (South Africa)
- ‘The Undertaker’s Apprentice’ by Hana Gammon (South Africa)
- ‘Falling from a knife tree’ by Matshediso Radebe (South Africa)
- ‘Deficiency Notice’ by Arman Chowdhury (Bangladesh)
- ‘A Groom Like Shahrukh’ by Vidhan Verma (India)
- ‘Relative Distance’ by Shih-Li Kow (Malaysia)
- ‘Khicheenk!’ by Usama Lali (Pakistan)
- ‘Oceans Away From My Homeland’ by Agnes Chew (Singapore)
- ‘Principles of Accounting’ by Rukshani Weerasooriya Wijemanne (Sri Lanka)
Canada and Europe
- ‘Lost Boys’ by Trevor Corkum (Canada)
- ‘So Long, Gregor’ by Mehdi M Kashani (Canada)
- ‘The Fisherwoman’by Eva Koursoumba (Cyprus) translated from Greek by Lina Protopapa
- ‘Lech, Prince, and the Nice Things’ by Rue Baldry (UK)
- ‘Crossing Lake Abaya’ by Gail Davey (UK)
- ‘Because You Drowned’ by Jay McKenzie (UK)
- ‘The Ovelias at Benzie Hill Dump’ by Alexia Tolas (Bahamas)
- ‘Where The Winds Blow’ by Cosmata Lindie (Guyana)
- ‘Road Trip and Fall’ by Demoy Lindo (Jamaica)
- ‘Ocoee’ by Kwame McPherson (Jamaica)
- ‘Teef From Teef’ by Deborah Matthews (Trinidad and Tobago)
- ‘Sauce’ by Jean Flynn (Australia)
- ‘Catching Up’ by Janeen Samuel (Australia)
- ‘Sugartown’ by Emma Sloley (Australia)
- ‘Kilinochchi’ by Himali McInnes (New Zealand)
- ‘When this island disappears’ by Dennis Kikira (Papua New Guinea)
The 2023 shortlisted stories will be published online in the online magazine of the Commonwealth Foundation, adda, which features new writing from around the world.
The judges will now go on to choose a winner for each of the five regions. These regional winners will be announced on 17 May before being published online by the literary magazine Granta. The overall winner will be announced on 27 June 2023.