Ntsika Kota

Ntsika Kota has today been declared the winner of the global prize at the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 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The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction in English in the regions of Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.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 is 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.

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 regional winners were announced on May 23. Chair of the Judges, Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar has revealed today’s winner to be and the earth drank deep, by eSwatini Ntsika Kota. He is the first writer from Eswatini to be shortlisted and subsequently win the prize. He becomes the second African writer to win the global prize after Ugandan Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi in 2014.

Kota’s winning story, and the earth drank deep centres around a group of villagers in a hunter-gatherer society set in the ‘distant past of our species’.  As they encounter threats from wild animals, disease, and unexpected death, the story tells of a day when ‘cold blood flowed for the first time, and the earth drank deep’. Some aspects of the social hierarchy of the village are very loosely based upon Nguni cultures from Southern Africa but the society depicted is imaginary.

Chair of the Judges, Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar, says, ‘This year’s winner is an instant classic: a linear narrative in the tradition of the realist short story. The events unfold around a central ethical conceit with tension that accumulates, and a surprise ending leaves the reader with many questions and in a state of provocation. The deceitfully simple and straightforward style rubs against an artful orchestration of tension. The writer controls elements of character and plot to captivate the most sceptical of readers. The reader inherits a host of hot topics for discussion at the end of the story all of which shine back at the reader’s world. Like the best parables the result is an interplay between story and reality, invention and the quotidian, the writer’s imagination and the world of the reader.’

The judge representing the African region, Rwandan publisher Louise Umutoni-Bower, praised it as 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.’  She comments, ‘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.’

Ntsika Kota said, ‘There are not many literature prizes more global in scale or inclusive in scope than the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. I submitted my story more out of pride than expectation. I was aware of the calibre of writing and adjudication so I was under no illusions about my chances. However, against all odds, my story was shortlisted. It was just the endorsement I had hoped for. It meant that the pride I felt in what I had put to page was justified. It was everything I had hoped for. I expected no more. Although, that being said, I couldn’t help but daydream about winning the Prize. I never let myself actually hope to win, though, let alone expect to. After all, that would be ridiculous! A rank amateur? In such distinguished company? Fantasise if you will, I told myself, but for goodness sake, be realistic. Imagine my surprise, then, when I got that call.’

 He goes home with the US$5,000 cash prize on top of the US$2,500 he won at the regional level.