By Ogova Ondego
Published April 5, 2016
Twenty-six stories by writers from 11 countries make up the shortlist for the 5th edition of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
“The shortlist,” Commonwealth Writers says in a Media Statement, “covers a wide range of subject matter from rivalry between chefs, a community of puppeteers in Delhi, society and class in Jamaica to genocide and revenge, an advertising campaign for chewing gum in India, and the heartbreak of Alzheimers.”
The organisation says its Short Story Prize competition attracted some 4000 entries from 47 countries out of which the shortlist was drawn “by a team of international readers, the global judging panel, representing each of the five regions of the Commonwealth – Helon Habila (Africa), Firdous Azim (Asia), Pierre Mejlak (Canada and Europe) Olive Senior (Caribbean), and Patrick Holland (Pacific).”
Gillian Slovo, a South African novelist and playwright who chairs the judging panel, says of the shortlist: “As a novelist accustomed to the luxury of the long form it has been a treat to discover writers who manage to crystallise such different experiences into so few words. The stories we have chosen for the shortlist are in turn comic, touching, poetic, mysterious but always fresh and unexpected.”
The shortlisted stories are Aabirah by Sophia Khan (Pakistan); A Visitation by Jane Healey (United Kingdom);Black Milk by Tina Makereti (New Zealand); Charmed by Jane Downing (Australia); Children of the Zocalo by Don McLellan (Canada); Confluence by Nova Gordon-Bell (Jamaica); Cow and Company by Parashar Kulkani (India); Dirty White Strings by Kritika Pandey (India); Eel by Stefanie Seddon (United Kingdom); Ethelbert and the Free Cheese by Lance Dowrich(Trinidad and Tobago); Exorcism by Lausdeus Chiegboka (Nigeria); Girdhar’s Mansion, Sumit Ray (India); Imbecile by Craig S Whyte (United Kingdom); Instant Karma by Vinayak Varma (India); Kurram Valley by Munib A Khan (Pakistan); Niroporadh Ghum (Innocent Sleep) by Sumon Rahman (Bangladesh); Saving Obadiah by Enyeribe Ibegwam (Nigeria); Space Invaders by Stuart Snelson (United Kingdom); The Driver by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Nigeria); The Entomologist’s Dream by Andrew Salomon (South Africa);The Pigeon by Faraaz Mahomed (South Africa); This Here Land by Miranda Luby (Australia); This is How We Burn by Cat Hellisen (South Africa); Vestigial by Trent Lewin (Canada); When I Came Home by Mark Winkler (South Africa); and Where Mountains Weep by Bonnie Etherington (New Zealand).
Going through the shortlist, one may wonder whether East Africans don’t write, let alone submit their work to competitions.South Africa and Nigeria are the only African countries on the list. Could it have anything to do with the fact that both countries were represented on the jury? Perhaps not. Alright, then; could it be that Kenyans and Ugandans have written all “the best piece of published short fiction in English”? Perhaps. Binyavanga Wainaina and Yvonne Owuor of Kenya both won the Caine Prize for African Writing. Some time back.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is said to be promoting “the best piece of unpublished short fiction in English.”