Akwaeke Emezi, Kelechi Njoku and Diane Awerbuck are on the shortlist for Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2017 announced on April 4, 2017.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize which was born in 2012 is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction and open to Commonwealth citizens aged 18 and over. Prizes are awarded to each of the five regions of the Commonwealth as well as a global winner. The overall winner receives £5,000 and the regional winner £2,500.
Some of the previous winners of this prize are Jekwu Anyaegbuna (2012), Julian Jackson (2013), Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (2014), Lesley Nneka Arimah (2015) and Faraaz Mahomed (2016). There has been only one African winner for the overall prize – Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi who won in her year.
The race for the next winner was officially started with the team at the prize announcing those who were in the running for this year’s accolades and moolah. Twenty-one outstanding stories were selected by an international judging panel out of almost 6000 entries from 49 Commonwealth countries. The judges were Zukiswa Wanner (Africa), Mahesh Rao (Asia), Jacqueline Baker (Canada and Europe), Jacob Ross (Caribbean) and Vilsoni Hereniko (Pacific). Their chair, novelist Kamila Shamsie, said of this year’s shortlist:
“The extraordinary ability of the short story to plunge you into places, perspectives and emotions and inhabit them fully in the space of only a few pages is on dazzling display in this shortlist. The judges weren’t looking for particular themes or styles, but rather for stories that live and breathe. That they do so with such an impressive range of subject matter and tone has been a particular pleasure of re-reading the shortlisted stories. The geographic spread of the entries is, of course, in good part responsible for this range – all credit to Commonwealth Writers for structuring this prize so that its shortlists never seem parochial. ”
Kelechi Njoku is a former radio broadcaster, now an editor and ghost-writer first got onto our radar when he was West Africa Regional Prize winner of the Writivism Short Story Competition in 2014. His story By Way of a Life Plot, sees protagonist Hyacinth Ike who planned to die on a Friday, because it seemed apt that he complete his life on a day other human beings tidied up their office desks for the week and—resolute in the conclusion that whatever wasn’t attended to that week would have to wait until the following week—headed for nightclubs, Bachelor’s Eve parties, and preparations for quick weekend trips. But, as the Devil’s interference worked with these things, Hyacinth’s plan had a crease.
Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil writer and video artist based in liminal spaces. She is a 2017 Global Arts Fund recipient, awarded by the Astraea Foundation for her video art, and her debut novel Freshwater is forthcoming from Grove Atlantic in winter 2018.
On her story Who Is Like God: My mother talked about God all the time, as if they were best friends, as if He was borrowing her mouth because maybe He trusted her that much or it was easier than burning bushes or He was just tired of thundering down from the skies and having no one listen to Him. I grew up thinking that He was folded into her body, very gently, like when she folded sifted icing sugar into beaten egg whites, those kinds of loving corners.
Diane Awerbuck is a writer, reviewer and teacher and is the most accomplished of the three. Her novel, Gardening at Night, won the 2004 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, best first book, and was shortlisted for the International Dublin IMPAC Award. In 2014, she was also shortlisted for Caine Prize and the winner of the Short Story Africa Day Prize.
Awerbuck’s short story Nagmaal, follows Klaas as he stands at the wire gate, folding his hat into a sweaty concertina in the dying heat. The jasmine festered over the fence, and the chainlink ticked: his aging heart kept time in skips and starts. Even after all these years the Master made him dry-mouthed, at a loss for words though they had grown up in the same language, knew one another by their smells and pores and whorls of hair.