Ntsika Kota and Cecil Browne have been declared winners in their regions at the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2022. The announcement was made today, Monday, May 23, 2022.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction in English in the regions of Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. Each of these winners are then eligible for the global prize. Previous winners in the Africa region have been Jekwu Anyaegbuna (2012), Julian Jackson (2013), Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (2014), Lesley Nneka Arimah (2015), Faraaz Mahomed (2016), Akwaeke Emezi (2017), Efua Traoré (2018), Mbozi Haimbe (2019), Chizaram Ilo (2020), as well as Rémy Ngamije and Roland Watson-Grant in 2021. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi won the global prize in 2014.
The judging panel this year announced on September 21, 2021, was chaired by Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar. His fellow judges, drawn from the five regions of the Commonwealth, were Rwandan publisher Louise Umutoni (Africa), Indian short story writer and novelist Jahnavi Barua (Asia), Cypriot writer and academic Stephanos Stephanides (Canada and Europe), Trinidadian novelist and former winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize Kevin Jared Hosein (Caribbean), and Australian Wiradjuri writer, poet and academic Jeanine Leane (Pacific).
The shortlists for 2022 were selected from a total of 6,730 entries from 52 Commonwealth countries and revealed on April 25 before the winners were announced. Chair of the Judges, Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar said,
‘This year’s regional winners offer a cornucopia of riches for readers globally from sources located around the world. These stories testify to the varied tones of fiction, from the oblique to the direct reference, with moments of character illumination to those associated with an imperiled planet. If a reader harboured any doubt about whether fiction is relevant to today’s world these stories answer with a riposte that resonates beyond a resounding “yes.” These stories fulfill a higher function as exemplars of the short story form: vibrant, memorable and indispensable.’
The writers of African descent who won in their regions are;
- and the earth drank deep, Ntsika Kota (eSwatini)
The judge representing the African region, Rwandan publisher Louise Umutoni-Bower said,
‘‘and the earth drank deep’ is a universal story, one that reaches across cultures and generations. A story that uses African folktale in a way that remains true to form but is also accessible. It is a reminder of a time when storytelling had a prized place in social gatherings. I was personally transported back to the floor by my mother’s feet where I quietly listened to tales of Rwandan folk heroes and villains. The judges felt that in this story we could see ourselves and what it means to be human. The willingness of the writer to put ‘evil’ on display without interrogation or judgement was commended.”
Ntsika Kota said;
“being shortlisted was a shock of its own, but winning the regional prize as a rank amateur honestly strains the bounds of credulity. Even I would never write such an improbable storyline! I’m deeply grateful that something I wrote is being recognized at such a prestigious level. When I write, my goal—or at least my ambition—is to get across the whole experience of existing in a place. Wherever you are reading this, how would you describe what it feels like to be you right now? How much of it is the sum of the sensory impressions you are paying attention to? How much of it is your emotional state? Or the memories that are freshest in your mind right now? My goal when I write is to weave a similar sort of tapestry of experience. One that allows you—hopefully, briefly—to exist in my imagination. You’ll be the judge of whether I’ve achieved that, but I’ll be satisfied if you’re entertained.”
Canada and Europe
- A Hat for Lemer, Cecil Browne (United Kingdom/St Vincent and the Grenadines)
The judge representing the Canada and Europe region, Cypriot writer and academic Stephanos Stephanides said,
“The spunky narrator’s voice speaks with verve in the island’s vernacular and is the driving force that carries the narrative. As a child of runaway slaves, the protagonist grew up in the island’s difficult and volcanic hinterland and knows how to navigate the lay of the land and the diversity of the people who inhabit it: Whites, Blacks, Mulattos, Caribs. One day, an Estate owner unexpectedly arrives at her mountain shack, where she makes a living as a herbalist, to hire her services to find a missing school inspector from England. Her search takes us on a journey that surprises at every turn; the mystery unfolds as Lemer takes us along in her quest from school to brothel, through trade depots and Estates, encountering drunken sailors whose red lips are repellant even to flies, courtesans with breasts like firm sweet mangoes, stable boys and Carib boatmen. In the compressed space of a short story, we are left with a visceral understanding of a culture at a crucial point of social and historical transition, seen through the vision and voice of an empathetic protagonist coming into her own.”
Commenting on his win Cecil said,
“Discovering that I was the regional winner filled me with a private joy, but this quickly turned into the kind of joy I experience when the family is together for some function, all three generations, along with our close friends. ‘A Hat for Lemer’ portrays early Vincentian society, and the dilemma Lemer faces as she seeks to define a role for herself within that society. The story is dear to me. Within it are people with energy and drive, optimists negotiating a world restricting and modern.”
The 2022 shortlisted stories will be published online, in the online magazine of the Commonwealth Foundation, adda (addastories.org), which features new writing from around the globe. These regional winners will be published online by the literary magazine Granta. The overall winner will be announced in June.