Rémy Ngamije, Roland Watson-Grant are Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2021 winners

Rémy Ngamije and Roland Watson-Grant are two of the winners of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2021, announced today, May 12, 2021.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction in English in the Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific regions. 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), and Chizaram Ilo (2020). Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi won the global prize in 2014.

The judging panel for the 2021 edition is chaired by South African novelist and critic Zoë Wicomb. Her fellow judges, drawn from the five regions of the Commonwealth, are Nigerian author A. Igoni Barrett (Africa), Bangladeshi writer and editor Khademul Islam (Asia), British poet and fiction writer Keith Jarrett (Canada and Europe), Jamaican environmental activist and author Diana McCaulay (Caribbean), and essayist and fiction writer Tina Makereti (Pacific).

The 2021 shortlist, selected from a total of 6423 entries from 50 Commonwealth countries was revealed on April 14, 2021. The Commonwealth Foundation today announced that Rémy Ngamije won in the Africa region for his short story Granddaughter of The Octopus while Roland Watson-Grant won in the Caribbean for his story The Disappearance of Mumma Dell.

Africa judge, Nigerian writer A. Igoni Barrett said: ‘Granddaughter of the Octopus is a psychologically astute portrait of a larger-than-life character whose rollicking essence is distilled into the reader’s imagination through concise prose, yes, and poetic detail, yes again. But there’s also that extra magic of the writer who wields metaphor like a whip cracking at untamed life. The unforgettable matriarch of this bittersweet tale is audacious, indecorous, and unabashedly sensual, all of which, and much, much more—I must add hilarious—are captured in a voice both raw and tender as a welt. To quote the story’s narrator, “The past always wins.” But the future, in the transfiguring writing of Rémy Ngamije, is winning this time.’

Rémy Ngamije
Rémy Ngamije

Commenting on his win, Remy Ngamije said; ‘to win for the Africa region is unexpected and humbling; I am honoured to join the likes of Innocent Chizaram, Faraaz Mohamed, Lesley Nneka Arimah, and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi – writers whose works and unfolding careers continue to inspire me. It is my hope this recognition encourages more writers from my home country, and those from less established literary traditions, to continue their writing journeys, to find the courage, patience, and confidence needed to participate in this intercontinental community of storytelling.’

Caribbean judge Diana McCaulay said; “A wiseass, pitch-perfect teenager tells the story of a pear tree near to the rail tracks of a bauxite train in a rural Jamaican district – no one will eat from this particular tree – but why? The Disappearance of Mumma Dell teems with lightly but perfectly sketched and familiar characters – a hellfire preacher, a scammer, community elders and shadowy politicians. Promises are broken, warnings are ignored, and the now power of social media supersedes the then magic of obeah. Rich, funny and deeply rooted in the Jamaican countryside, this story reverberates with the drumbeats of the ancestors and delivers an incisive commentary on what gets protected, by whom and why.’

Roland Watson-Grant
Roland Watson-Grant

Roland Watson-Grant said; ‘It’s a double-win for me. I have been among talented writers from across the globe who shared their fiction with the world and their personal realities by email. In what can be described as a singular historical moment and a worldwide storm, we have created a time capsule and found strength in a community of storytellers.I entered Commonwealth Short Story Prize because I write in the spaces where cultures have conversations. I eavesdrop on what one culture – based on geography or time – has to share with another. I couldn’t ignore a platform that is dedicated to the very same thing.’

The five regional winners’ stories will be published online by the literary magazine Granta in the run-up to the announcement of the overall winner and published in a special print edition by Paper + Ink. The overall winner will be crowned on June 30, 2021.

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