Two Kenyans are among the 28 authors shortlisted for the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
Buke Abduba’s story Price Tags and Josiah Mbote’s Punching Lines made it to the shortlist, the Commonwealth Foundation announced Tuesday, as it congratulated all authors whose stories were selected.
Abduba’s Price Tags is about “a young girl who leaves home to buy a good life, unaware of just how much it would cost her”, while Mbote’s Punching Lines is an “introspective exploration of the narrator’s state as a failed stand-up comedian. He dares to touch on some perennial as well as contemporary themes such as failure, love, depression, and the philosophy of life through a delicate interplay of comical and tragic lens.”
Four other stories from Africa made it to the shortlist. They are: Arboretum by Nigerian H.B Asari, Mama Blue by Michael Boyd (South Africa), The Undertaker's Apprentice by Hana Gammon (South Africa) and Falling from a knife tree by Matshediso Radebe (South Africa).
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually by the Commonwealth Foundation, an intergovernmental organisation, for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from the Commonwealth’s 56 Member States.
For the 2023 prize, the foundation received 6,642 entries. And, for the first time, it also received entries from Togo and Gabon—the newest members of the Commonwealth.
“This year’s shortlist is a concert of voices from across the Commonwealth, showcasing the richness of its writing traditions, histories, and perspectives. These stories brim with the energy and urgency of the present moment—read them to experience the beat and pulse of contemporary storytelling,” said Pakistani writer and translator Bilal Tanweer, the chair of the 2023 judging panel.
The shortlisted entries tackle subjects such as illness, human trafficking, relationships, generational gaps, friendships, and making one’s way in the world of work.
“These stories perform the essential function of the best fiction: they make us see what we couldn’t see, awaken our sympathies for people we didn’t know, and bring us closer to the world we already inhabit. What we see here are writers, who with their varied styles and strategies, stretch our sense of the real,” Tanweer said.
“These stories, like music, go clean through our gut and spine, filling us with sensations ranging from dysphoric anguish to euphoric laughter, and after reading each story, we wake up to the world, changed,” he added.
This year’s judging panel consisted of Bilal Tanweer (Chair), Rémy Ngamije (Judge, African Region), Ameena Hussein (Judge, Asian Region), Katrina Best (Judge, Canada and Europe Region), Mac Donald Dixon (Judge, Caribbean Region) and Dr. Selina Tusitala Marsh (Judge, Pacific Region).
According to a press release, Commonwealth Foundation Director-General Anne T. Gallagher commended all 6,642 participants who submitted stories for the competition, and congratulated the 28 who made it to the shortlist.
“The Foundation is proud of the Short Story Prize: proud of what it reveals of the richness of Commonwealth culture; proud of its reach into all Commonwealth countries; and proud of the role that the prize plays in unearthing and nurturing emerging talent,” she said.
“Working so closely with civil society, we see, every day, the power of storytelling to challenge, to inspire, and to help us make sense of ourselves and the world around us.”
The 2023 shortlisted stories will be published in the Commonwealth Foundation's online magazine adda (addatories.org), which features “new writing from around the globe”.
Regional winners will be announced on May 17 and will be published online by the literary magazine Granta. They will also receive an award of £2,500 (Ksh411,663) each. The overall winner, selected from the regional winners, will be named on June 27 during an online award ceremony and will receive £5,000 (Ksh823,327) award.
In 2022, eSwatini chemist and writer Ntsika Kota was named winner of the prize for his story and the earth drank deep. This was the first time a person from eSwatini won the competition.
“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,” he said after winning the prize.
The 2024 prize will open for submissions on September 1, 2023.
The 2023 shortlist in full:
‘Price Tags’ by Buke Abduba (Kenya)
‘Punching Lines’ by Josiah Mbote (Kenya)
‘Arboretum’ by H. B. Asari (Nigeria)
‘Mama Blue’ by Michael Boyd (South Africa)
‘The Undertaker's Apprentice’ by Hana Gammon (South Africa)
‘Falling from a knife tree’ by Matshediso Radebe (South Africa)
‘Deficiency Notice’ by Arman Chowdhury (Bangladesh)
‘A Groom Like Shahrukh’ by Vidhan Verma (India)
‘Relative Distance’ by Shih-Li Kow (Malaysia)
‘Khicheenk!’ by Usama Lali (Pakistan)
‘Oceans Away From My Homeland’ by Agnes Chew (Singapore)
‘Principles of Accounting’ by Rukshani Weerasooriya Wijemanne (Sri Lanka)
CANADA AND EUROPE
‘Lost Boys’ by Trevor Corkum (Canada)
‘So Long, Gregor’ by Mehdi M. Kashani (Canada)
‘The Fisherwoman’ by Eva Koursoumba (Cyprus) translated from Greek by Lina Protopapa
‘Lech, Prince, and the Nice Things’ by Rue Baldry (UK)
‘Crossing Lake Abaya’ by Gail Davey (UK)
‘Because You Drowned’ by Jay McKenzie (UK)
‘The Ovelias at Benzie Hill Dump’ by Alexia Tolas (Bahamas)
‘Where The Winds Blow’ by Cosmata Lindie (Guyana)
‘Road Trip and Fall’ by Demoy Lindo (Jamaica)
‘Ocoee’ by Kwame McPherson (Jamaica)
‘Teef From Teef’ by Deborah Matthews (Trinidad and Tobago)
‘Sauce’ by Jean Flynn (Australia)
‘Catching Up’ by Janeen Samuel (Australia)
‘Sugartown’ by Emma Sloley (Australia)
‘Kilinochchi’ by Himali McInnes (New Zealand)
‘When this island disappears’ by Dennis Kikira (Papua New Guinea)