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2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Shortlist

Posted on 29/03/2016
By Commonwealth Foundation


Gillian slovo
©Charlie Hopkinson

The 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize attracted nearly 4000 entries from 47 countries. Twenty-six “fresh and unexpected” stories by writers from eleven countries make up the shortlist.

After an initial sift 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) – chose the shortlist.

Chair of the judges, South African novelist and playwright Gillian Slovo, said of this year’s 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.”

You can find extracts and details of the 26 shortlisted stories below.


The Regional Winners were announced on Wednesday 4 May and the Overall Winner of the Prize will be announced at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica on 5 June 2016.

Aabirah, Sophia Khan (Pakistan)

Aabirah had been dead for almost eighteen hours. She floated above the grave and wondered at the white bundle that had so recently been her. She’d spent the first hour of her death unnoticed under the lychee tree. The gardener, late as always, had discovered her at noon, at which time she had been transferred to an examination room at Shifa International Hospital by her frantic mother and resigned father. Her death had been an accident, though her mother, in her hysteria, had attributed it to a bud-dua on
the part of her sister-in-law.

Sophia Khan author photoSophia Khan was born in Islamabad. She spent her childhood mostly in Pakistan, before moving to the US, where she studied English at Haverford College and received an MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Islamabad with her husband. Her first novel, Yasmeen, has just been published and she is currently at work on her second.

A Visitation, Jane Healey (United Kingdom)

He is like parsley, he is everywhere. Nosing around the backdoor of my kitchens and tripping on my heels at the market by the plum stand and the fish stall. Him and his tiny nose, his bad palate, that annoying heavy breathing looping around every corner. I buy a crate of wine – he buys two of the same. I introduce truffle meatballs – he introduces “truffle-infused rounds of pork.” Just so. Confit of duck, strozzapreti with lovage pesto, onion and beef stew. From the day he set up his restaurant two months ago he has mimicked every one of my recipes.

jhealeyprof6Jane Healey lives in London, holds degrees from the Universities of Warwick and Edinburgh, and studied on the MFA programme at CUNY Brooklyn College. Her stories have been published in Paper Darts, Banshee, Tin House Online and The Normal School; and she was shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award 2014 and the Bristol Short Story Prize 2013. She is currently working on her first novel.

Black Milk, Tina Makereti (New Zealand)

The Birdwoman came into the world while no one was watching. It was her old people who sent her, the ones who hadn’t chosen to make the transition, who stayed in their feathered forms, beaks sharp enough to make any girl do what her elders told her.
"It’s time," they said. "They’re ready."
But was she?
There were things the people needed to know. But first she had to make her way into their world. She watched for a long time from her perch, trying to figure the way of them.

Tina MakeretiTina Makereti writes essays, novels and short stories. Her novel, Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings (Vintage, 2014) has been longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award and won the 2014 Ngā Kupu Ora Māori Book Award for Fiction, also won by her short story collection, Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa in 2011. ‘Black Milk’ was written in response to a series of Fiona Pardington photos from the exhibition ‘A Beautiful Hesitation’ for a www.litcrawl.co.nz event.

Charmed, Jane Downing (Australia)

I overheard a resident say it as I walked through the recreation room. It’s been a charmed life. I walked more slowly as I looked across to the speaker, an old lady in a wheelchair. The manicurist sitting on a low stool in front of her had one of the woman’s claw-like hands in hers, stroking the bones and tendons into something a little straighter, unfurling the fingers from the palm so the nails could be cut, filed, buffed, probably painted too. The old woman’s back was as kinked from pain as her hands: it was a hunchback with a twist at the waist. But she was smiling, lopsidedly but decidedly, this woman waiting to die.

Jane Downing was born in Australia but was taken to live on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, three weeks later. She has since lived in Tanzania, Ireland, Indonesia, the (then) USSR, China, the Marshall Islands and Guam, and now resides in Albury, Australia. She has short stories and poetry published widely in Australian journals and her two novels, The Trickster (2003) and The Lost Tribe (2005), were published by Pandanus Books.

Children of the Zocalo, Don McLellan (Canada)

A flock of doves bursting into the air heralds Emilio’s arrival in the square. Trumpets blare, and the limp flag atop the Palacio Nacional comes to life.
“Your blessings!” the people, held back by a line of policia, call out to him. “We pray for your eternal salvation!”
He doffs his cap and bows appreciatively to his imaginary subjects.
“I am unworthy!” he shouts. “Stop it!”
His reverie is abbreviated by the groaning of subterranean pipes. A few more steps and plumes of water belch from the corroded ancient fountain, the arching spray a welcome reprieve from the rising morning heat.

McL-2Don McLellan has worked as a journalist in Canada, South Korea and Hong Kong. His story collection In the Quiet After Slaughter was a 2009 ReLit Award finalist. His second collection, Brunch with the Jackals, was released by Thistledown Press in 2015. His shortlisted entry ‘Children of the Zocalo’ was inspired by a homeless shoeshine boy he met while hitchhiking through Mexico in the 1970s. You can find more information at donmclellan.com

Confluence, Nova Gordon-Bell (Jamaica)

Union; flowing together; rivers merging; the coming together of ideas. the coming together of factors.
Miss Evelyn doctor give her a prescription for blood sugar and it make her forget who she is and where she was. She walk out of her house into the street in her night gown and start talk to people who nobody can see. My employer, Miss Kaylie, go for Miss Evelyn, pack her and her grip in the back of the car and bring her back from country to the house in Kingston.

Miss Evelyn is Miss Kaylie grand-mother youngest sister and Miss Kaylie say she owe everything she have to Miss Evelyn. Miss Evelyn living with us now so Miss Kaylie can take care of her.

portraitNova Gordon-Bell is a graduate of the University of the West Indies, Mona, where she studied English Literature, Media and Communication. She has won several awards for her short-stories and poetry. Having pursued a career in public information and advertising, Nova currently teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in media, communication and creative writing.  A lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica, Nova lives in Jamaica with her sons, Benjamin and Joshua.

Cow and Company, Parashar Kulkarni (India)

“Where is the cow?” asked Pestonjee, the Office Manager.
“The cow?” the Junior Officer responded.
“Yes, what else?”
“The cowwww…”
“I told you, two days ago.”
“Yes. I didn’t forget. By today eve…?”
“No, not evening. By noon, in the lobby.”
“I thought he wasn’t serious,” said the Junior Officer, returning to his desk.
“A cow?” the accountant responded.
“A real cow?”
“Yes, a cow, a real cow, a living cow. Now, come with me.”
Glancing towards the main door the Junior Officer spotted the Office Assistant
sitting on his rickety stool, leisurely picking his nose. “Natwarlal, you also.”

Parashar Kulkarni

Parashar Kulkarni is an Assistant Professor in Social Sciences at Yale NUS College Singapore. He works at the intersection of religion and political economy. He won the British Academy Brian Barry Prize in Political Science (2015) for his research on religion, property rights and violence against women in colonial India.  This story, part of a larger project, is a result of taking an advisor’s words to heart – ‘what you cannot do in history, you push to literature.’

Dirty White Strings, Kritika Pandey (India)

Every evening when the sun slips through the skies of New Delhi, I unbutton Lily’s dress. I slide it down her breasts with one hand and grab her neck with the other. I don’t pay attention to the men in the courtyard. Some of them breathe clouds of fire; others walk around on stilts. Neither do I mind the little children with their mouths full of puffed rice. They cheer on the fire-breathers and the stilt-walkers. They will grow up to be like their fathers, who have grown up to be like theirs. I just sit on the front steps with Lily's umbrella dress at my feet.

Kritika Pandey - Photo

Kritika Pandey grew up in Ranchi, Jharkhand and now lives in New Delhi. She is a Young India Fellow and a Charles Wallace India Trust Scholar for Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. In 2015, she was longlisted for Toto Funds the Arts Awards (English Creative Writing). Her works have appeared in the UCity Review, The Bombay Review and eFiction India. Her poems and stories explore displacement, both public and private.

Eel, Stefanie Seddon (United Kingdom)

Never try to pull your fingers out of an eel’s mouth, not a live one or a dead one. Not if you want to have any skin left to carry him home with, and especially not if it’s a twenty-pound silver-belly. It was Ted who saw him off with the slasher, and it took all of us to drag him home through the bush, but I swear it was me, and me alone, who got him caught that day. We’d gone down to the bridge to cut manuka for our eeling poles. I’d begged to tag along and Mother said I could if Ted watched out for me.

Stefanie Seddon grew up on a farm in New Zealand and moved to the UK after completing a degree in English Literature at the University of Otago.  Stefanie is currently studying the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, and is working on a novel inspired by the high country landscapes and rural communities of her native New Zealand.  In 2015, Stefanie’s short story ‘Arrowtown’ appeared in the twelfth issue of the Mechanics’ Institute Review.

Ethelbert and the Free Cheese, Lance Dowrich (Trinidad and Tobago)

Ethelbert G Sandiford was the happiest man alive. The second son of Tantie Lucy was now in management. Ethelbert had just come out of the Managing Director’s office where it was announced that he was promoted to Assistant to the Packaging Foreman.
“Sixteen years,” thought Ethelbert to himself. “All ah them who used to laugh, cyah laugh now”, he said aloud to no one in particular.
Ethelbert was an employee of the Sunshine Caribbean Cheese Company, known across the country as the Cheese Factory. He had started out in the freezer and had shown real mettle in outlasting most men who had been recruited with him.

lance pic

Lance Dowrich is a learning and development professional who has been teaching and training for over 28 years. He is the Principal and CEO of a post-secondary technical school in Trinidad and Tobago. He credits his passion for reading to his father Learie Dowrich and to a wonderful home where many clowns resided and where there was non-stop chatter.

Exorcism, Lausdeus Chiegboka (Nigeria)

Bimpe was the most notable member of the church, mostly for her “colour-blocking” styles than for her protuberant belly. She would wear at least two sharply contrasting bright colours in her blouses and skirts, for example neon green and bright pink or lemon green and orange at the same time. The colours announced her arrival and registered her presence. She always loved the front row. I knew her for her queer style of prayer. She seemed to always be the one most possessed by the Holy Ghost. She had a frightening style of speaking in tongues, muttering and repeating incongruous syllables with “trickesai-truckesai-abasimombobrabra-nyongo” recurring frequently.

Lausdeus Otito Chiegboka

Lausdeus Chiegboka is a medical doctor trained at the University of Nigeria who practises in the Nigerian Navy.  Born in Nsukka, Nigeria, he has published a novel titled Devil at Bay. Lausdeus also writes poetry and won second prize (Literature) in Anambra State Youth Awards in 2012.

Girdhar’s Mansion, Sumit Ray (India)

Everybody knew how to ruffle Girdhar’s feathers, even when meeting him for the first time. You might mention how it had rained too little or too much, or that the cost of seeds was going up but the price of the harvest had hardly moved. If not farming, you might bring up how the buses that thundered down the highway now blared all kinds of inane music and made it worse when one of them stopped to let a dozen grotesque city-types relieve themselves. One never had to look for long to find a way to make Girdhar scowl and mumble about a world gone to tatters.

Sumit Ray Photo

Sumit Ray is a writer, amateur historian, comics critic, and entrepreneur living in New Delhi, India. He loves the short story form and goes looking to the works of South Asian masters for inspiration.

Imbecile, Craig S Whyte (United Kingdom)

Trudging through darkness, the freezing fog. At any moment Ruari MacAskill’s life might be ended, but that’s not what’s bothering him, no, it’s these damn boots.
He should count himself lucky, he knows. If he hadn’t pulled them from the dead man someone else would have. But he had been the first to cast off his dilapidated brogues with their loose, flapping soles and poke his frozen foot into the leather cast of a dead man’s calf. The boot was still lukewarm. The fellow was not long dead and his legs were whole – it was his midriff that was missing – and his face’s only blemish was a tiny razor nick.


Craig S Whyte is a Scottish writer based in Adelaide, Australia. He has a background in ecology and cultural heritage and has written on these topics in numerous publications. In fiction, ‘A Land of Luxury and Wickedness’ was included in the Writers Abroad Anthology 2013, while ‘The Death of You’ has appeared on several competition shortlists. ‘The Horse Trader’ won the Askance 2015 Competition. Craig also writes historical novels.

Instant Karma, Vinayak Varma (India)

And then there was this nun who lived in a creaky little hut on the summit of a holy mountain deep in the Sahyadris. The tall old mountain was narrow at the base, bulbous on top and ringed by thick forests and a couple of large, round foothills. The nun on top sat in the lotus position and rocked back and forth all day, chanting mantras and flailing about in spiritual ecstasy until she and the sun were both spent. She smoked a bong afterwards and slept as soundly as the infernal nightly creaking would allow.

The roof of the nun's hut was poorly thatched, its earthen floor was uneven, and its bamboo walls were creased with neat Nurembergian rows of red, black and white ants.


Vinayak Varma lives in Bangalore, India. He is the author-illustrator of the children’s books Jadav and the Tree-Place and Up Down, and runs a one-man illustration and design studio at www.mixtape.in.

Kurram Valley, Munib A Khan (Pakistan)

We are gathered in the dry September heat far from the cold mountainside. We are waiting for the jirga to finish conferring. My brothers rest under a banyan tree; Zaman Noori and his kin face them, the two parties within point-blank range, between them a train of furrow-browed, feverish faces. Seven days have passed since Zaman Noori’s son was killed and his ancient face has absorbed the loss—he exhibits no specific gestures of mourning, only the general air of outrage that he’s always carried like it was his patrimony: the quiet contempt of someone still resentful over a generations-old offense.

Munib A Khan grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, and attended Connecticut College and Purdue University. He has worked for Banipal and Wasafiri magazines in the UK. He has won fellowships and awards from Toor Cummings Center (CT) and National Society of Arts and Letters (IN). He currently teaches creative writing at Purdue University.

Niroporadh Ghum (Innocent Sleep), Sumon Rahman (Bangladesh)

Translated by Arunava Sinha

- Is that you, Rashed?

- How are you, Ma?

In the dim light of the evening, neither of these questions created an agonising need to reply. I reached behind me to shut the gate, while Ma started walking ahead of me along the corridor. It was long, the paint flaking off the walls. The first door on the left was mine, the next, Shahed’s. On the right the first room was the kitchen, followed by the dining room. The corridor led to my parents’ room. This was how it was, wasn’t it? The room would be lit up brightly earlier, but they were dark now. Only the door to Ma’s room was open. I followed her.

- They released me today. The RAB officer said, go home, Rashed saab. We are sorry, you’re not the man we were looking for. Then they admitted me to a hospital. I got my release after three days.

Sumon_RahmanSumon Rahman is a poet, fiction writer and cultural analyst from Bangladesh. He has authored two books of poems, a collection of short stories and a book of essays on cultural studies, all in Bengali. Apart from that he writes regularly in national newspapers and international referred journals, on various issues of art, culture and society. He has taught Philosophy and South Asian Studies and is currently teaching Media Studies and Journalism at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB).

Saving Obadiah, Enyeribe Ibegwam (Nigeria)

Obadiah Anyaso’s wife of two years died from an illness that shocked him, his family and friends, neighbours and parishioners: in fact all of his townspeople. Her death had been the kind where she had been seen earlier in the day, buying smoked fish and cocoyam for her evening soup, only for wails to be heard just after evening meals that Obadiah Anyaso’s wife had died. In the space of a year and six months after her death, Obadiah continued to mourn her. His beard and hair, grown as a rite for the one year mourning period, became unkempt like old toothbrush bristles.

Enyeribe Photo

Enyeribe Ibegwam was brought up in Lagos, Nigeria, and now lives in Washington, DC, where he is a graduate student at Georgetown University.

Space Invaders, Stuart Snelson (United Kingdom)

She shopped ethically, fried free-range eggs in a cramped flat. Before she found her bijou home, she had endured the ritual humiliations of the property search, had joined the desperate wrestling over square footage, engaged with over-exuberant estate agents in their pseudo-bar lairs, focused on commutability, the underground network’s delineations treated as different time-zones. And this was just to rent. She read with dismay, the escalating forecasts of deposit accumulation: five years, ten years, twenty years. Ownership would not happen in her lifetime.

Stuart Snelson’s stories have appeared in 3:AM, Ambit, Bare Fiction, HOAX, Lighthouse, Structo and Vol.1 Brooklyn, among others, and been performed at Liars’ League New York City. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. Links to previous stories can be found at stuartsnelson.wordpress.com. He lives in London where he is currently working on his second novel. He can be found on Twitter @stuartsnelson

The Driver, Oyinkan Braithwaite (Nigeria)

She is as they described her – a goddess with long powerful legs, skin the colour of corn and lips that would make sucking on an agbalumo look pornographic. She stands out - she is a head above most of the tired and grumbling travelers waiting for their luggage to be released by the willful conveyer belt. She scans the room, looking for – him. He remembers to raise the cardboard that has her name painted with thick black marker. Her mother had written it, convinced that he wouldn’t be able to write Aderisi correctly, revealing the flaws in the Nigerian public school system.

Oyinkan Braithwaite writes novels, short stories, scripts, poetry, articles and notes to herself. She has had work published in anthologies and has also self-published work. Her flash fiction story – ‘Eba. Efo Riro and a Serving of Tears’ was recently longlisted for the Etisalat Flash Fiction Prize. She has performed spoken word live, on radio and on TV. You can find her at Qamina.com.

The Entomologist’s Dream, Andrew Salomon (South Africa)

Yasmin Ingabire.
Forty two.
Anywhere? You are sure about that, Sergeant Migambi? Very well, I think the appropriate place to start would be at the boxing gym in Kicukiro District. This was almost a year ago.
You know the sound a padded glove makes when it hits against someone’s ribs? It’s a kind of flat smack. I heard that sound all the time in the boxing gym. When I could hear a smack, a pause and then one or two more smacks in quick succession I’d know the boxers were in a clinch. I couldn’t see the ring or much else from where I sat, but I’d been going there long enough to be able to form a picture in my head of what was happening.

Andrew Salomon photo

Andrew Salomon is the author of the young adult novel The Chrysalis and the fantasy thriller Tokoloshe Song. He has been shortlisted for the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award and his short fiction has won the PEN/Studzinski Literary Award for African Fiction and the Short.Sharp.Stories Award. He works as an archaeologist and lives in Cape Town with his wife and two young sons.

The Pigeon, Faraaz Mahomed (South Africa)

Each morning, for about four months now, I am woken by the same foul, fat pigeon. I am certain that he’s the same one, even though I have no means to prove it. In truth, I have no way to be sure he is a he either. It used to occur to me that maybe he had left something at the window, or inside and was hoping that being here to retrieve it would allow him some release. On most Saturdays, I leave the window open. It makes me feel kind, because I am easing his spirit into the next phase or something of that nature.


Faraaz Mahomed is a clinical psychologist and human rights researcher based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He also holds academic fellowships with the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Johannesburg. A former Fulbright scholar, Faraaz’s writing is largely academic in nature, having published several journal articles relating to human rights issues. He dreams of writing a novel and intends pursuing a PhD on the subject of mental health and human rights.

This Here Land, Miranda Luby (Australia)

The sound woke him. Too vulnerable to be a howling dingo, it was more like the solemn cry of an owl. Or, he thought, a ghost haunting the trees. If he’d been familiar with grief’s melody, if he’d known how much someone sobbing, someone in pain, could sound like wild dogs and nocturnal birds, he would have slid out of bed and gone to see what was wrong. But he was too young to know that. So, as he lay beneath the tangled web of shadows cast by ancient red gums, the rhythmic hymn of his mother’s heartbreak soothed him and sent him back to sleep.

Miranda Luby lives on the Surf Coast of Australia and works as a freelance travel and lifestyle journalist. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Sean O’Faolain Prize at the Cork International Short Story Festival and the New Millennium Writings Competition and she placed second in the Daily Telegraph’s Summer Short Story Competition. Miranda has been published in a number of literary journals, with one of her short stories recorded as a podcast. She is currently writing her first novel.

This is How We Burn, Cat Hellisen (South Africa)

The ink was blue, fading across the flyer into what might have once been red but was now the pink of discarded Valentine's cards. A rainbow wave of disquiet and superstition. An A5 job lot – 5000 flyers for seven hundred grimy South African rands. Lindela scanned the rest of the flyer, though it was nothing new. Just a distraction. Like the lulling rattle of the wheels against the track. A measure for passing time.


Cat Hellisen is a fantasy author for adults and children who currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa. Her children’s book Beastkeeper, a play on the old tale of Beauty and the Beast, was released 3 February 2015. Her short stories have appeared in Tor.com, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Apex Magazine and more.

Vestigial, Trent Lewin (Canada)

“Jenny, got bad news. I'm coming over.”
With that, he hangs up. I sit at the window to watch the street. When he shows up, he strings a chain around his bike and attaches it to a lamp-post, but doesn’t bother locking it. He never does. I've not heard anyone clomp on the stairs as heavily as he does - it's as though he wants the whole building to know that he's here. I usually tell him that his laughter does that all by itself, that the whole street knows when he's over.

By the time he knocks on the door, someone is checking out his bike. I rap on the window until I get their attention. They move on. I open the door.

Trent Lewin Photo

Trent Lewin is a Canadian writer of short stories and longer pieces of fiction. He finds inspiration in the extraordinary events and people that populate the world, constantly searching for exuberance and the uplifting nature of existence. In 2014, Trent was shortlisted for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Short Story Prize, and is currently completing two novels. Some of his work can be read on his blog at trentlewin.com.

When I Came Home, Mark Winkler (South Africa)

When I came home there were strange people in my house, and they gathered tight at the front door to block my entry.
“How did you get in?” I asked.
A young woman raised her index finger and before my eyes the tip of it took the shape of a key.
“Go away,” she said. “You’ve lived in this house for long enough.”
The house had been my father’s, and his father’s before. Was she using the plural, I wondered? And if so how could she know these things?
I asked if I might collect some of my belongings.
“No,” the woman said. “You’ve had the benefit of them for long enough.” And she closed the door.

Mark Winkler

Mark Winker has spent his working life in advertising, winning over thirty local and international advertising awards. He is currently creative director at a leading Cape Town agency. Mark’s first novel, An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Absolutely Everything, was published in 2013, and his second, Wasted, in 2015. His third novel, The Safest Place You Know, will be published in September 2016. Mark lives in Cape Town with his family.

Where Mountains Weep, Bonnie Etherington (New Zealand)

When my poppa would hit me, with the back of his hand against my face, I used to imagine my neck as one of those steel ropes that support whole bridges above angry water. The wind makes those steel ropes move but they never break. This made me feel stronger than Poppa and feeling stronger than him made me laugh. Laughing made him hit me harder. At those times my name changed from Lara to Bitch. Bitch wouldn’t stop laughing, not even with tears all the way to my collar. Other people can’t win when you’re laughing. So Bitch always won.


Bonnie Etherington is from the South Island of New Zealand, and also spent much of her childhood in Indonesia and Australia. She currently lives in the USA while she studies towards a PhD in English Literature. She is also working on a novel, set in West Papua during the late 1990s.