[The JRB Daily] ‘The punch of a good short story leaves you breathless’—2024 Commonwealth Short Story Prize regional winners announced

Header image: Reena Usha Rungoo, Sanjana Thakur, Julie Bouchard, Portia Subran, Pip Robertson

The regional winners of the 2024 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, known as the ‘world’s most global literary prize’, have been announced—including Reena Usha Rungoo, who becomes the first Mauritian writer to win the Africa regional prize.

This year’s prize attracted the highest-ever number of entrants, and the winners—53-year-old Julie Bouchard from Canada, 47-year-old Pip Robertson from New Zealand, 39-year-old Reena Usha Rungoo from Mauritius, 35-year-old Portia Subran from Trinidad and Tobago, and 26-year-old Sanjana Thakur from India—were all nominated for the first time. 

These writers now go through to the final round of judging. The overall winner will be announced on 26 June 2024.

Regional winners receive £2,500 (about R57,000) and the overall winner receives £5,000 (about R115,000).

Usha Reena Rungoo’s winning story, ‘Dite’, which means ‘tea’ in Creole, is an exploration of a Mauritian woman’s love of tea and of her ties to the drink’s colonial history. Each tea in her collection contains an olfactory memory in which her relationship with education, language, sex and other women is captured.

The Commonwealth Foundation said:

The stories address a wide range of themes—including love and loss, complex relationships with parents, and the joy of simple pleasures. Francophone writer Julie Bouchard’s story ‘What Burns’ (Ce Qui Brûle) describes the devastating consequences of a catastrophic wildfire in Canada. Pip Robertson’s ‘A River, Then the Road’ is the story of a 12-year-old girl who has been abducted by her troubled father. Portia Subran’s ‘The Devil’s Son’, told in Trinidadian dialect, tells of a retired oil field worker, recollecting a dark incident that happened 60 years before. Reena Usha Rungoo’s ‘Dite’ draws upon a Mauritian woman’s love of tea to explore memories of past relationships—and the colonial history of her favourite drink. Taking its name from the Bollywood actress, Sanjana Thakur’s ‘Aishwarya Rai’ is an adoption story in reverse, as a young woman seeks out a possible mother from a shelter.

Congratulating the regional winners, chair of judges Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi commented:

The short story form has neither the luxury of time nor the comfort of space. It is an impatient form; it does not dance around. The punch of a good short story leaves you breathless. As the judging panel, we enjoyed, sorrowed, celebrated and eventually agreed that these stories came up on top of the different regions.

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. It is described as ‘the most accessible and international of all writing competitions’, as in addition to English, entries can be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, Creole, French, Greek, Malay, Maltese, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil, and Turkish. This year, 414 entries were submitted in languages other than English.

Ugandan-British novelist and short story writer Makumbi is joined by five judges drawn from the five regions of the Commonwealth. They are South African writer Keletso Mopai (Africa), Singaporean short story writer, screenwriter and novelist O Thiam Chin (Asia), Canadian writer and editor Shashi Bhat (Canada & Europe), poet and author Richard Georges from the British Virgin Islands (Caribbean), and award-winning Australian Bundjalung writer Melissa Lucashenko (Pacific).

2024 Commonwealth Short Story Prize winners

Africa: ‘Dite’ by Reena Usha Rungoo (Mauritius)

Asia: ‘Aishwarya Rai’ by Sanjana Thakur (India)

Canada and Europe: ‘‘What Burns’ by Julie Bouchard (Canada) (translated by Arielle Aaronson from the French, Ce Qui Brûle)

Caribbean: ‘The Devil’s Son’ by Portia Subran (Trinidad and Tobago)

Pacific: ‘A River Then the Road’ by Pip Robertson (New Zealand)

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