Twenty-five outstanding stories have been shortlisted by an international judging panel for the world’s most global literature prize. The writers come from 14 countries across the Commonwealth including, for the first time, Lesotho and Namibia. Often humorous and always intensely moving, Chair Zoë Wicomb said the 25 stories range in scope from “concerns with sexual identity, gender relations, animal rights” to “neo-colonialism, racial exploitation and, of course, the perennial themes of love and death.”
The Commonwealth Short-Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 54 Member States. It is the most accessible and international of all writing competitions: in addition to English, entries can be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, French, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil, and Turkish. Such linguistic diversity in a short story prize in part reflects the richness of the Commonwealth, not least its many and varied literary traditions.
The stories on the 2021 shortlist were selected from a total of 6423 entries from 50 Commonwealth countries – a 25% rise in entries as compared to the previous year.
Chair of the Judges, South African writer Zoë Wicomb, said:
“Announcements about the death of the short story may be legion, but the 2021 shortlist loudly asserts that the form is in fine fettle. It also shows that writers continue to push at the very parameters of the short story. Many have tackled difficult subjects and found fresh means of representing these with courage and sensitivity.”
She also praised the “novel use of local non-standard Englishes as well as inventive inscription of native languages.”
Describing the “range of stories from speculative fictions that address environmental and political crises to the hyper-real and the supernatural”, she added:
“The great number of excellent submissions and the equivocal nature of aesthetic taste made for protracted discussions. It has been a privilege to participate in vigorous argument and thoughtful horse-trading as members of the judging panel generously conceded and negotiated priorities.”
Dr Anne T Gallagher AO, Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation, the intergovernmental organisation which administers the prize, commented:
“A record number of entries were received this year for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize: a testimony to its enduring popularity and perhaps also to a deep creativity borne of isolation and uncertainty. The authors on this shortlist are to be celebrated for their mastery of the form. It is an honour for the Foundation to bring their work to wide public attention. And to all those who entered: we thank you for the timely reminder of the power of storytelling, not least its ability to comfort, inspire and heal.”
The 2021 shortlist in full
- “Tetra Hydro Cannabinol” by Moso Sematlane (Lesotho)
- “Granddaughter of The Octopus” by Rémy Ngamije (Namibia)
- “An Analysis of a Fragile Affair” by Ola W. Halim (Nigeria)
- “Ogbuefi” by Vincent Anioke (Nigeria)
- “A for Abortion” by Franklyn Usouwa (Nigeria)
- “The Current Climate” by Aravind Jayan (India)
- “It Ends with a Kiss” by Riddhi Dastidar (India)
- “Weeds” by Ling Low (Malaysia)
- “Submission” by Nur Khan (Pakistan)
- “I Cleaned The-” by Kanya D”Almeida (Sri Lanka)
Canada and Europe
- “Starry Night” by Cara Marks (Canada)
- “Class Struggle” by Ian Stewart (Canada)
- “Mass Effect” by Joshua Wales (Canada)
- “some words, ending in a sentence” by phill doran (UK)
- “Turnstones” by Carol Farrelly (UK)
- “Tourism is Our Business” by Heather Barker (Barbados)
- “Genuine Human Hair” by Sharma Taylor (Jamaica)
- “The Disappearance of Mumma Dell” by Roland Watson-Grant (Jamaica)
- “Hunger” by Andre Bagoo (Trinidad and Tobago)
- “English at the End of Time” by Rashad Hosein (Trinidad and Tobago)
- “The Woman; or Euryale” by A.N. King (Australia)
- “Rabbit” by Samantha Lane Murphy (Australia)
- “Downpour” by SJ Finn (Australia)
- “Fertile Soil” by Katerina Gibson (Australia)
- “Carved” by Tim Saunders (New Zealand)
The 2021 judging panel is chaired by South African writer Zoë Wicomb. The other panellists are Nigerian writer A. Igoni Barrett, Bangladeshi writer, translator and editor Khademul Islam, British poet and fiction writer Keith Jarrett, Jamaican environmental activist, award-winning writer and 2012 Caribbean regional winner Diana McCaulay and award-winning author and 2016 Pacific regional winner Tina Makereti from New Zealand.
Last year, Kritika Pandey won the 2020 Commonwealth Short-Story Prize for her story “The Great Indian Tee and Snakes”. Nii Parkes, chair of the judges, described it as “a gut-punch of a story, remarkable because, in spite of its fraught subject matter, it never neglects the beauty of the world in which the story unfolds… a story that asks important questions about identity, prejudice and nationhood, using metaphors with devastating effect, while still brimming with its author’s revelry in the possibilities of language”.
Now in its tenth year, the prize has developed a strong reputation for discovering new writers and bringing them to a global audience.
Nominations have helped many new writers find publishers and agents. 2020 Australia/Pacific winner Andrea E. Macleod secured an agent, as did 2020 overall winner Kritika Pandey. Sharma Taylor, shortlisted in 2018, 2020 and again this year, has just signed a two-book deal with Virago, the first book, her debut novel, is based on her shortlisted story “Son Son’s Birthday”.
“Winning the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2020 has opened doors I had not imagined possible at this stage of my career,” said Kritika Pandey, the 2020 winner. Her winning story has been translated into Bengali, Marathi, Malayalam, Pashto, and Italian. Kenyon Review and BBC Radio 4 have solicited work from her, and she is collaborating with Rosie Kay Dance company for a feminist take on Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando as part of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
2020 Caribbean winner Brian Heap also used some of his prize money as seed money for a student project, organising two creative writing competitions at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus in Jamaica.
The 2021 shortlisted stories will be published online, in the innovative online magazine of Commonwealth Writers, adda [www.addastories.org], which features new writing from around the globe. The judges will go on to choose a winner for each of the five regions. These regional winners will be announced on Wednesday 12 May, before being published online by the literary magazine Granta. The overall winner will be announced on Wednesday 30 June.
- Wednesday 14 April Shortlist announcement
- Wednesday 12 May – regional winners
- Wednesday 30 June – overall winner