2024 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Shortlist Announced

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is administered by the Commonwealth Foundation. The prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2000-5000 words).
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  • World’s most global literature prize shortlists 23 writers from 13 countries 
  • St Kitts and Nevis features on the shortlist for the first time, with 66-year-old Heather Archibald nominated for ‘The Marriage Proposal’, her story about a woman conflicted between a male suitor and the children she is caring for.
  • Judges hail ‘a dream list’ which will leave readers ‘startled and shocked, heartbroken and humbled in equal measure’
  • Stories range from romances and speculative fiction, to family dramas and coming of age tales, and address a range of topics from motherhood and bereavement to mental illness and forbidden love

 

An international judging panel has shortlisted twenty-three outstanding stories for the world’s most global literature prize. The shortlisted writers hail from 13 countries across the Commonwealth and their ambitious stories span continents and decades.  Many of the stories are told through the eyes of children—tales of parents splitting up, of school, and of the sometimes baffling behaviour of adults around them.  Older characters also appear—sometimes destructive, sometimes inspiring. Five of the stories reflect on motherhood in very different ways. Others tell of forbidden love in a hostile world. Topics range from music, football, art, film, the impact of electricity arriving in a village, and even one woman’s passion for tea.  While romance and thrillers feature prominently, nearly a quarter of the shortlisted stories are speculative fiction.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 56 Member States. It is the most accessible and international of all writing competitions: in addition to English, entries can be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, Creole, French, Greek, Malay, Maltese, 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. This year, 414 entries were submitted in languages other than English.

The stories on the 2024 shortlist were selected from a total of 7,359 entries from 53 Commonwealth countries—a ten per cent increase as compared to 2023. Three small Commonwealth countries—Mauritius, Rwanda and St Kitts and Nevis have authors on the shortlist for the first time. The shortlisted writers—6 men, 15 women and 2 who identify as non-binary—range in age from 26 to 70. And all but one have never been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize before.

Chair of the Judges, Ugandan-British novelist and short story writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi says:  ‘This is a dream list for lovers of the short story form—readers who wish to read around the world, writers who wish to hone their skills, agents looking for talent and content creators who relish the challenge of predicting regional winners and the overall winner. Whether reading stories from Africa and Asia, through Europe and Canada to the Caribbean Islands and the Pacific, you’ll be amazed and thrilled, startled and shocked, and heartbroken and humbled in equal measure by the skill and talent, imagination and creativity, by the flexibility of the form and what it is capable of, and by what the world is doing with the English language. For the judging panel, it has been an incredible literary journey.’

Dr Anne T. Gallagher AO, Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation, the intergovernmental organisation which administers the prize, commended everyone who entered stories in 2024, adding: ‘The Short Story Prize is legendary for unearthing and nurturing the rich creative talent of our Commonwealth. This year is no exception and I have been overwhelmed by the depth and reach of the 2024 shortlist. My congratulations to the 23 writers whose stories will now secure a truly global audience. And I offer my warmest encouragement to the remaining 7,336 entrants to keep on writing. Today, perhaps more than ever, it is storytelling that will help inspire the love, compassion and understanding that our world so desperately needs.’

 

The 2024 shortlist in full:

AFRICA

‘Fadi’ by Azags Agandaa (Ghana)

‘Dite’ by Reena (Mauritius)

‘House No. 49’ by Olajide Omojarabi (Nigeria)

‘The Goat’ by Jean Pierre Nikuze (Rwanda)

‘A Song Sung in Secret’ by Jayne Bauling (South Africa)

 

ASIA

‘Mother May I’ by Ajay Patri  (India)

‘Thambi, Thambi’ by Bharath Kumar (India)

‘Aishwarya Rai’ by Sanjana Thakur (India)

‘The Woman Upstairs’ by Audrey Tan (Singapore)

 

CANADA AND EUROPE

‘When Things End by ‘Sarah Balakrishnan (Canada)

‘What Burns’ by Julie Bouchard (Canada) (translated by Arielle Aaronson from the French, Ce Qui Brûle)

‘Your Own Dear, Obedient Daughters’ by F.E. Choe (Canada)

‘Milk’ by Eaton Hamilton (Canada)  

‘Sookie Woodrow Goes to Heaven’ by Ceilidh Michelle (Canada)

 

CARIBBEAN

‘You Had Me at Aloe’ by Ark Ramsay (Barbados)

‘The Marriage Proposal’ by Heather Archibald (Saint Kitts and Nevis)
‘Wrinkle Release’ by Stefan Bindley-Taylor (Trinidad and Tobago)
‘Terre Brulée’ by Celeste Mohammed  (Trinidad and Tobago)
‘The Devil’s Son’ by Portia Subran (Trinidad and Tobago)

PACIFIC

‘Nobody Owns a Fire’ by Jennifer Severn (Australia)

‘Mananangal’ by M Donato (New Zealand)

‘A River Then the Road’ by Pip Robertson (New Zealand)

‘So Clean’ by Anna Woods (New Zealand)

 

Author photos, biographies and summaries are available for download here: [link]

 

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is administered by the Commonwealth Foundation.

Five judges drawn from the five regions of the Commonwealth join the chair,  Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, on the panel. They are South African writer Keletso Mopai (Africa), Singaporean short story writer, screenwriter and novelist  O Thiam Chin (Asia), Canadian writer and editor Shashi Bhat (Canada/Europe), poet and author Richard Georges from the British Virgin Islands (Caribbean), and award-winning Australian Bundjalung writer Melissa Lucashenko (Pacific).

 

Global impact on authors’ careers

Winning or being shortlisted for the prize opens a wealth of opportunities for the selected writers, propelling them further in their writing careers.

In 2023, Kwame McPherson from Jamaica won the prize for his story ‘Ocoee’. Since then, he has been approached to speak at a number of international events—including a film festival, a mental health conference and a social work conference—about the importance of storytelling. McPherson recently said that the prize ‘is truly an international competition and the only one with the reach that it has.’

Kenyan Buke Abdub Galma, shortlisted for the 2023 Africa prize, has been awarded a fellowship to attend The International Literary Seminars in Kenya and has started working on a novel. She commented that ‘being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize has opened me up to a world of literature that I didn’t know existed.’

Bangladeshi author Arman Chowdhury, shortlisted as the regional winner for Asia for the 2023 prize, now has the position of Associate Fiction Editor of a United States-based literary magazine, while the 2023 winner for Asia, Singaporean Agnes Chew, found that the considerable media attention she received—from national media, podcasts, and cultural organisations—raised the profile of a short story collection she published in May of the same year.

Other 2023 shortlistees have found literary agents, been invited to literary festivals, and had their work published in national and international literary publications. Many have also appreciated and benefited from the connections made with other writers through the prize. Australian Jay McKenzie, who was shortlisted for the Pacific region in 2023, said ‘putting my [Commonwealth Short Story Prize achievement] in author bios gives me more pride than any of my other writing achievements to date.’

  • Both shortlisted and winning writers have gone on to publish novels. Kevin Jared Hosein—the overall winner of the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize—released his first novel for adults in 2023, entitled Hungry Ghosts, which was described as ‘an early contender for the Booker’ by The Times (UK). Sharma Taylor, who has been shortlisted for the prize four times, released her debut novel What a Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You in 2022, while Fijian writer Mary Rokonadravu, winner of the 2022 regional prize for the Pacific, was approached by a New York literary agency to submit a collection of short stories and has since been published in a wide range of American Literary magazines. She was also selected for the Iowa International Writing residency in Autumn 2023.

The 2024 shortlisted stories will be published online, in the innovative online magazine of the Commonwealth Foundation, adda (addastories.org), which features new writing from around the Commonwealth. The judges will go on to choose a winner for each of the five regions; the regional winners will be announced on Wedneday 29 May before being published online by the literary magazine Granta. The overall winner will be announced on 26 June 2024. 

 

2024 Timeline

  • 29 May: Regional winner announcement
  • 26 June: Overall winner announced at the Commonwealth Short Story Prize Award Ceremony

 

Join the conversation @cwfcreatives on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and keep up to date with the prize via commonwealthfoundation.com/short-story-prize/

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