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2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Shortlist

Posted on 31/03/2015
By Commonwealth Foundation

Commonwealth Short Story Prize LogoThe 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize attracted nearly 4000 entries – a record number.

After an initial sift by a team of international readers, our judging panel, comprised of six acclaimed writers – Leila Aboulela, Fred D’Aguiar, Marina Endicott, Witi Ihimaera, Bina Shah and chair Romesh Gunesekera – chose the shortlist. Twenty-two stories from eleven countries around the world, they reflect the breadth and quality of writing in the Commonwealth today.

You can read a passage from each of the 22 shortlisted stories below.

Aadi v the World (United Kingdom)

Hayam upstairs is well fit. She's a Muslim and I've seen her going to mosque on a Friday in the veil thing that covers everything 'cept her eyes, which are caramel-coloured, like gulab jamun, but most of the time she wears a shalwar, real pretty pink or purple ones, but then I saw her at the bus-stop with her mates in skinny jeans, looking fine. She's a Muzzy, but she's safe. Sometimes, when I'm gaming, I create a new character and make the avatar look like her, wearing jeans.
from Aadi Vs the World

RachelStevenson-200x133Rachel Stevenson grew up in Doncaster, South Yorkshire and now lives in London, UK. She has contributed to Smoke: A London Peculiar, Here Comes Everyone, Short Story Sunday, A Cuppa And An Armchair and The Guardian. Her work has been made into a short film for the Tate website, directed by Sam Blair. She recently completed an MA in Creative Writing.



April with Oyundi (Kenya)

But you could feel it in your stomach, those murmurations of doom butterflies that loosen your bowels as if you have typhoid. Mama passed me at the table with my ‘Better English’ and looked pleasantly puzzled and then Oyundi came trotting after her. One glance and the sweat beads appeared on my forehead. I looked at her face with forced bravado but women’s intuition is like witchcraft. She was already smiling. Outside, I heard the first sounds of trouble from Kivuva’s house as his mother started as usual with a good verbal blasting. And then I saw the shape of Mama Pipi approaching my mother at the hanging line and quietly swallowed the frog in my throat.
from April with Oyundi


Alexander Ikawah is a freelance writer and filmmaker living and working in Nairobi, Kenya. He is a founding member of the Pan-African writers’ collective Jalada Africa and was shortlisted for the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. His work had been published in Jalada and Storymoja


Cindy’s Class (Jamaica)

We didn’t hide our curiosity about her when we started this class, but all we learned initially was that she’d become some kind of celebrity in America. And now, here she was on the island, on a mission. In my mind, I see her as the captain of a ship, her long shiny black hair blowing in the wind, her bony body bent over the wheel, sailing with purpose and taking her crew along, willingly or not. But I know that’s not the story. You have to be running away from something yourself to be with cases like us, on an island that can barely stay above water.

She studied as a psychiatrist, she told us eventually, wrote a few books and won a big prize, which helped her to decide what she really wanted to do with her life.
from Cindy's Class

A McKenzie-200x133Alecia McKenzie is a Jamaican writer, artist and journalist. Her books include the short story collections Satellite City and Stories from Yard, and the novel Sweetheart. Alecia has participated in art exhibitions in New York, London and other cities, and, as a journalist, has reported on human rights, gender, development, culture and the environment.  She is the founder and editor of Southern World Arts News (SWAN), an online site that provides information about the arts.


Corrango (Australia)

The door croaked.

‘Hello?’ I called out.

‘It’s only the wind,’ he said, looking into his screen. But it wasn’t the wind. There were two faces at the door, two round faces blocking the light. Both were framed by dark, unruly curls.

‘Hi,’ I said. The younger sister put her fist in her mouth so fast it could have broken a tooth. The older squinted at me.

‘You’re not allowed in here,’ she said, stepping one foot inside.

‘Oh, we’re all right,’ I replied, amused by how menacing this kid was. Despite myself, I was intimidated. The little one looked from me to her sibling, uncertain.

‘Hello,’ said Gage, and grinned at them. His voice was as sweetened as the orange juice. They both backed up a step, examined him with matching frowns.
from Corrango

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJennifer Mills is the author of the novels Gone and The Diamond Anchor and the short story collection The Rest is Weight, which was shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards and longlisted for the 2013 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. In 2012 Jennifer was named a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist and in 2014 she received the Barbara Hanrahan Fellowship from the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. She is the fiction editor at Overland literary journal, and is currently working on a novel, Dyschronia, about climate change and the perception of time. Jennifer lives in Beijing.


Famished Eels (Fiji)


After one hundred years, all I have is one daguerreotype photograph of her in bridal finery. A few stories told and retold in plantations, kitchens, hospitals, airport lounges. Scattered recollections argued over expensive telephone conversations across centuries and continents by half-asleep men and women in pyjamas. Arguments over mango pickle recipes on emails and private messages on Facebook. A copper cooking pot at the Fiji Museum. Immigration passes at the Fiji National Archives. It is 2011.
from Famished Eels

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMary Rokonadravu is Communications Manager at WWF-Pacific based in Suva, Fiji. She finds inspiration in the lives of ordinary people and communities, particularly untold stories of people in the frontlines of climate change and environmental degradation in the Pacific islands region. She believes in the power of culture and the arts, particularly storytelling, to inspire transformation in society. She loves cats.



How to Pronounce Knife (Canada)

At home, I open the book I was given. I am supposed to practice my reading. Soon it will be my turn to read in front of the whole class.

I turn the pages. They are shiny and smell like paint thinner. Like my father. I look at the drawings and try each word by itself slowly.

There’s that word.

I have trouble with it. I make the sound each letter is supposed to make on its own.

It doesn’t sound like anything real.
from How to Pronounce Knife

souvankham_200x133Souvankham Thammavongsa was born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand in 1978. She was raised and educated in Toronto. She is the author of three books of poetry, Light (2013), Found (2007), and Small Arguments (2003), all published by Pedlar Press in Canada. Of her most recent collection, the Trillium Book Award jury, awarding her the prize for poetry, called the collection “a landmark in contemporary poetry”.


Left (South Africa)

His accent is strange and rich to her ears. She must strain to understand what he is saying and even then the sense of it sometimes slips past her. His name, she knows from the board at the entrance downstairs, is Szymanski. She has never attempted it, nervous of mispronunciation, although her own name is nearly unrecognisable on his tongue.

She thinks of inviting him to call her by her first name, but suspects he would find it improper. He might even be alarmed, thinking her about to impose, to burden him.

She had never anticipated that loss would make her timid, fearful of oppressing others with her grief.
from Left

Jayne Bauling 200x133Jayne Bauling lives in Mpumalanga, South Africa. Her novels for young adults have won the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, the Maskew Miller Longman Literature Award and the Sanlam Gold Prize for Youth Literature. The most recent, Dreaming of Light, was chosen for the 2014 IBBY Honour List. Her short stories for adults and youth have been published in various anthologies. Her story ‘Flight’ was shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.


Legs of Thunder (South Africa)

Look, she would say, you can clean tripe for hygienic purposes; you can package it glamorously; you can market it whichever way you want to upmarket consumers; you can call it exotic names – mala mogodu, itwani, upense, or whatever tickles your fancy. But for crying in a bucket don’t pulverize the darn thing by soaking it in bleach. When you do that, it turns completely white and textureless. With the colour gone, the funk is gone; the grit is gone; the grease is gone. And with the funk and the grit and the grease gone, the flavour is gone! So, what’s the point? Might as well eat bleached dishwashing rags and bleached veggies! Nomcebo was so determined to prepare a dish of proper tripe for dinner she did not mind driving up the busy Louis Botha Avenue, all the way to Hillbrow. Tripe and dumplings, ahhhhh…
from Legs of Thunder

Fred Khumalo 200x133Fred Khumalo is the award-winning author of the novels Bitches Brew and Seven Steps To Heaven – which are being taught at various universities in South Africa. A veteran journalist who has worked for numerous newspapers in South Africa and abroad, he was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2012. His non-fiction books include Touch My Blood, his autobiography, which was shortlisted for the Alan Paton Prize for Non-fiction in 2007.


Light (Nigeria)

When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not yet know what the world did to daughters. He did not know how quickly it would wick the dew off her, how she would be returned to him hollowed out, relieved of her better parts. Now, in the before of it, they are living in Port Harcourt in a bungalow in the old Ogbonda Layout. Her mother is in America reading for a Masters in Business Administration. She has been there for almost three years in which her 11-year-old bud of a girl has bloomed. Enebeli and the girl have survived much in her absence, including a disturbance at the market which saw him and the girl separated for hours while people stampeded, trying to get away from a commotion that turned out to be two warring market women who'd had just about enough of each other's tomatoes. They survived a sex talk, birthed by a careless joke an uncle had made at a wedding, about the bride taking a cup of palm wine to her husband and leaving with a cup of, well, and the girl had questions he might as well answer before she asked someone who might take it as an invitation to demonstrate.
from Light

LesleyLesley Nneka Arimah grew up in Nigeria and the UK. She currently resides in the US in the state of Minnesota where she spends the winters in hiding, working on a novel and a collection of short stories.




Madness (Trinidad and Tobago)

It is midnight, weekend, and the house, the rum-shop flat, is empty, save for him and me.

He goes past the door where I lie in the narrow bed facing the musty store room with about a hundred empty rum bottles, refilled with milk sometimes in the week and, on Saturday evenings especially, with the six bottle puncheon glass gallon with a neck handle poured and mixed in an enamel pot that makes seven. I use a dhal-spoon and a little yellow or red or orange plastic funnel to refill seven bottles, all equal at the neck, crown tight and silver-shiny, the dog-eared copy-book from Saturday evening that I carried to the hammock back in the drawer in the counter.
Saturday evening is pay-day, the dozen workmen men coming and going one at a time from the bench under the upstairs house, where Baap will later sit and talk with my father, he in English, grandfather in Hindi about truck and cane and logs and cows and land and money.
from Madness

Toodesh-200x133Toodesh Ramesar is a writer and literature teacher from Trinidad and Tobago. He has won several prizes including the 2005 Derek Walcott and University of West Indies Prize for Poetry. His work has been featured in the collection Six Trinidadian Poets and the literary journal The Caribbean Writer.



Novostroïka (Canada)

Walking home from work, careful to avoid the ice patches on the sidewalk, Daniil wondered when he had let the numbers slip. Last month the number of people living in his suite was twelve, including himself. He counted on his fingers, stiff from the cold. In the bedroom, first corner, Baba Olga slept on the fold-out armchair; second corner, on the fold-out cot were Aunt Lena and Uncle Ivan and their three children; third corner, Daniil’s niece and her friend (but they hardly counted, they ate little and spent most of their time at the institute); fourth corner, who was in the fourth corner, wait, that was himself, Daniil Blinov, bunking under Uncle Timko; in the hallway, someone’s mother-in-law or second cousin or who really knew, the connection was patchy; on the balcony camped Cousin Vovic and his fiancé and six hens, which were not included in the count but who could forget them, damn noisy birds. That made thirteen. He must have missed someone.
from Novostroïka

Maria Reva - Photo Lo-ResMaria Reva is a Ukrainian-Canadian writer whose work includes short fiction and libretti. She was a finalist for The Writers­­­’ Union of Canada 2013 Short Prose Competition, with publication forthcoming in The New Quarterly. “Novostroïka” is part of a story cycle set in a Soviet block building which, due to a bureaucratic glitch, does not officially exist. Twitter: @mariareva_604



Old Honey (Australia)

Iqbal came back to the clearing the next night, when his mother was with her choir. A few bees hung about and he moved carefully so as not to upset them. When he lifted the lid of one of the boxes, it released a smell like old urine. He realised what it was, and stepped back.

In Sudan, his father had tended hives of cylinders made from curved bark and covered in hardened mud. He left them in the trees for months, then climbed up, white robes hitched above his knees, to pull them down.

There was a clang and Iqbal glanced towards the house. A light came on, and the woman’s figure appeared at the window. After a few minutes, the light went off again.

There came the familiar sound of crying. Quietly, Iqbal lowered the lid and turned back to the town.
from Old Honey

Jessica White-200x133Jessica White was raised in rural Australia. She has a PhD from the University of London and has published two novels, A Curious Intimacy and Entitlement. Her short stories, essays and poems have appeared widely in Australian literary journals. She is currently writing her third novel, The Sea Creatures, and a non-fiction work on 19th century author Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter Maud.



Pilgrimage (Canada)

Ayeyo Fanni is lost again. Lost in front of Cathy’s Kiwi Mart & Video Store. Her familiar green sweater and frail frame stand out against the seductive perfume advertised in the bus shelter behind her. Believe in your beauty, it tells us. Ayeyo Fanni sits patiently, looking down the street. One hand firmly grips a cane and the other shakes gently in her lap. When I first met her, a week ago, I worried she had been in the cold too long and was getting hypothermia. But when I got closer, I noticed only one hand trembled.
from Pilgrimage

PhotoAminaFarahAmina Farah is a Somali writer who calls Toronto home and has roots in Nairobi, Kenya. Her work is inspired by the folklore and storytelling she heard as a child and her experiences with migration are central to the themes of identity, belonging, and displacement that are often explored in her stories.



Since We Never Met (New Zealand)

In cyberspace no-one can hear you scream, which is why you have to type it. Aarrgghh!

And for repugnance: ewww; or sympathy: awww.

Dixon rarely went in for that sort of thing; he was the strong, silent typist: LOL. Dixon was his real name – he said - and I was Kiwifruit. We met in 'The Men’s Room' on a Saturday in January, Dixon wearing sweats and a beanie and breakfasting in bed in Amsterdam, coffee and cigarettes; me naked under my mosquito net with my laptop – it was horribly hot so I had the window open. Outside the jagged hillside was disappearing into night.
from Since We Never Met

Steve Charters 200x133After relinquishing a moribund theatrical career in England, Steve Charters returned to New Zealand to develop an early interest in writing. While attending courses at Auckland University he won The Macmillan Brown Prize for Writers and was highly commended in the CBA short story competition. He is published in Readers Digest; the anthology Creative Juices, and in The Rangitawa Collection 2014. His ultra-short fiction appears on the website http://flash-frontier.com/.


Tattoo (Australia)

Mr Beavis clears his throat. Rattles on for a while about my lack of concentration and my disruptive behaviour. While he talks he touches his tie. His hands are pale and soft and he fingers the tie carefully as if it's a musical instrument like a recorder or a clarinet and he's trying not to play a wrong note.

I sneak a sideways glance at my father. He is flexing his bicep and the pirate ship rocks to and fro. There's a storm coming.

Mr Beavis looks at me. “Is there anything going on at home that the school should know about Jake?”

I just shake my head and say nothing.

Dad's mouth seems too tight for words to come out but somehow they do. “No, nothing going on at home.” He looks at me. “Is there Jakey?”
from Tattoo

SusanYardley-200x133Susan Yardley‘s stories have won many competitions including the University of Canberra Award in 2007, the Rolf Boldrewood prize (twice) and the City of Glen Eira Award (twice.) Her work has appeared in the 2013 Aesthetica Creative Annual and in the anthology The Great Unknown, published in 2013 by Spineless Wonders.



The Death of A Valley (India)

The blanket curtain falls like a dead body shot in the heart and there is a gaping hole through which the water and moonlight is pouring in like fresh pumped blood. The blanket is lying like a dead sodden weight on the floor. Like the weight on my conscience when Baby was scolded for my wrong. Yes it was then I knew I had done something wrong just as I did when they rewarded me at the training camp for making the seniors ‘happy’. I wasn’t expecting Memsahib to reward me with a full Ten Rupee for telling her the truth. I knew I had done something right then and ate all the chocolates I could buy with that Ten Rupee. But who was to decide what was right and what was not?
from The Death of a Valley

Meenakshi-1 copyMeenakshi Gautam Chaturvedi is a copywriter by profession, but a writer by passion. After pursuing research in Zoology for two years as a National Research Fellow, she started her copywriting career with Lintas, and went on to work with Tata Interactive Systems and Britt Worldwide. She writes across genres, and is the author of two children’s books Tales from Bushland and Tales of Phoolpur.



The Human Phonograph (United Kingdom)

And as a figure in reflective helmet and articulated suit half-walks half-floats over the unreal surface she make-believes he is her husband, and the moon itself could perfectly well be Qinghai province for all anybody can tell, and one of the other translators, one who specializes in English, says Mr. Armstrong is saying, 'A small step for man, a large step for man' and she shades her eyes with her hands so nobody can see her cry.

It has been seven years.

There are thoughts that cannot be spoken but can only be sung.
from The Human Phonograph

JTel-wilson-200x133Jonathan Tel is writing a fiction book set in contemporary China. It is composed of ten chapters, each of which may be read as an independent story, but which link together to form a novel. The shortlisted story is extracted from this work. The opening chapter, ‘The Shoe King of Shanghai’ was shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Award 2014. He is looking for a publisher for this book. He is also writing a book of poems about Berlin.


The Itch (Kenya)

“This is the third pot you have broken. What is wrong with you?” Mbui’s uncle, Mbutu, asked her as he gathered up the pieces. The itching subsided and Mbui seemed to come back to herself. She looked at him the way someone looks at a person they have suddenly recognized.

“Are you going out your mind?” Uncle Mbutu asked her. Mbui walked away from him without answering. She felt nauseated by the strong smell of the filter-less cigarettes Mbutu smoked. Was she going out of her mind? Would madness overcome her so that she would be walking around the village like Munga, the village madman, who had recently beaten his brother Chege with a cat? Munga had held Chege and swung the cat at his head and the cat had clawed Chege’s head pulling out chunks of hair. By the time people came to Chege’s rescue, his head had deep lacerations and he had to wear a turban for three months.
from The Itch

Alice-200x133Muthoni wa Gichuru lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and has a bachelor’s degree in information science from Moi University. Her first published novel Breaking the Silence was the first runner up in the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation Literature Prize Youth Category in 2011. Her short story ‘Boys and Girls’ will be published in Fresh Paint Volume 2, an anthology by AMKA Space for women writers.



The King of Settlement 4 (Trinidad and Tobago)

I’m gon start this one off by telling you that I was born and raise along a backroad that always seemed slightly more Trinidadian than the rest of the country. Settlement 4 is that old-timey, grassy, care-free type of Trinidad the illustrators adore. Open any Caribbean primary school reading book and you gon likely see it there.

We have it all.

We have the little black boys bathing by the standpipe. We have the no-teeth man who rock-hard gums could cut through cucumber like butter. Take a walk down this mucky stretch of asphalt and look to your right. You’ll see a young, pregnant Miss Lady combing the lice out of the locks of she first-born. To the left, you’ll see a sun-burnt savannah where children still fly mad bull kites next to a posse of nomad goats. Walk further down and you gon find a rusted sedan with chipped bricks for wheels, and weeds growing out of the glove compartment.

But then there’s the features that we illustrators would omit. Features of boys like me and Foster who had plans to spend the better part of we teenage years sitting on a crate and paintbucket. Makeshift lookout points, you could say.
from The King of Settlement 4

Kevin Hussein 200x133Kevin Jared Hosein is a poet, writer and science teacher in Trinidad and Tobago and a graduate of the University of the West Indies. He illustrated and published a book for younger audiences, Littletown Secrets, in 2013. His short stories have been featured in Caribbean anthologies such as Pepperpot and Jewels of the Caribbean.



The Umbrella Man (India)

He unfurled the umbrella, held it aloft over his head and stepped out of his ward again that evening, thinking that it would rain. Rain had evaded the place for several months. Only in the evenings were the inmates allowed to go out of their wards and stroll in the compound of the asylum. But he was the only one permitted to saunter out of the gates and spend some time in the street nearby. This limited liberty was not an entitlement, but a privilege that had been granted to him by the doctors for his obedience and calm disposition. It had taken many months for the doctors to grant him this freedom which, if one were to measure, ended either at the wall around the one- hundred-and-twenty-square-metre compound of the asylum or the ninety-something yards in the narrow avenue outside the gates that ended at another wall. Beyond that wall, there was nowhere to go. For the inmates, the world ended at that wall. Beyond that brick-and-stone wall was a vast darkness, an oblivion.
The Umbrella Man

Siddhartha-Gigoo-200x133Siddhartha Gigoo studied English Literature at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. He is the author of two books of fiction, The Garden of Solitude (2011) and A Fistful of Earth and Other Stories (2015). He has also written and directed two short films, The Last Day (which was selected for several international film festivals) and Goodbye, Mayfly. As a student, his two books of poems, Fall and Other Poems and Reflections were published by Writer’s Workshop, Kolkata, India.


This is How the Ecosystem Works (India)

“Keep writing,” Mahesh Namboothiri smiled his sad smile. Then he looked away and cleared his throat and said, “And once in a while, try to write a story in Malayalam too. Don’t forget your mother tongue.”

Forget. Mother tongue. Don’t. The words sank in slowly, and each word sent Mini spiraling into shame. Instantly, she saw herself as Mahesh Namboothiri saw her, this English-speaking, English-writing, English-dreaming brat who had dismissed the language she was born with, its rude proverbs and rolling hills of poems. Why did she not write in Malayalam? Mini wondered. Her very first story was about five children who ate peaches from tins and said “I say!” a lot and played in a willow treehouse behind a manor. Her insides contracted with guilt when she thought of Helen Hills. That was the pen name she had come up with.
from This is How the Ecosystem Works

shahnaz 1Shahnaz Habib’s fiction and essays are published or forthcoming in Brevity, Elsewhere, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Guardian, The Caravan, Afar, and other magazines. She writes book reviews for the Briefly Noted column of The New Yorker. Shahnaz is a 2015 New York Foundation of Arts Fellow and the founding editor of Laundry, a literary magazine about fashion. Shahnaz lives in New York, where she freelances for the United Nations and Gotham Writers’ Workshop.


Zoe (Trinidad and Tobago)

“You livin’ aroun’ here?” And suddenly she was traversing the hills and valleys of the local accent. She had captured and re-created the rhythm and cadence, the lilting, sing-song. The quick-fire, splice-and-elision delivery to come. It was important to maintain the integrity of the accent. A misstep and you might be mocked, laughed at, looked at with gentle, turned down smiles; unconvinced, unimpressed. He watched the words out her mouth, they soared through the air like a dart… And landed. Bulls-eye. He imagined her flying between one country and the next, and half-way between the two switching accents, an easy thing like flicking a switch, no one the wiser where she came from. The strange duality of it, like babies born during international flights. What nationality did they gave them beyond the nationality of their parents?
from Zoe

Darren writer_200x133Darren Doyle was born in Trinidad and Tobago. He has a Journalism BA from the University of Sheffield, and feels most at home writing, and maintaining the blog, Worksp_ce, at www.workspce.com. He is currently working on getting his first novel published.