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2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize shortlist

Posted on 20/04/2020
By Commonwealth Foundation

This short film features shortlisted authors sharing personal insights into how they have been affected by Covid-19. Read about the twenty shortlisted writers and their stories below.

 

‘Rites Evasion Maneuvers’, Caleb Ozovehe Ajinomoh (Nigeria)

‘Ouroboros, Ouroboros’, Sharmini Aphrodite (Malaysia)

‘The Dawning’, Aba Asibon (Ghana)

‘Attention’, Catherine Chidgey (New Zealand)

‘The Teeth on the Bus Go Round and Round’, Dinesh Devarajan (India)

‘Mafootoo’, Brian S. Heap (Jamaica)

‘When a Woman Renounces Motherhood’, Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Nigeria)

‘The Shedding’, Nafisa A. Iqbal (Bangladesh)

‘An Instruction Manual: How to Find Your Vagina’, Maham Javaid (Pakistan)

‘Provenance’, Jason Jobin (Canada)

‘Fatou vs. the Dictator’, ML Kejera (The Gambia)

‘Το χρέος’ (‘The Debt’), Nikolas  Kyriacou (Cyprus), translated from Greek into English by Lina Protopapa (Cyprus)

‘The Art of Waving’, Andrea E. Macleod (Australia)

‘Wherever Mister Jensen Went’, Reyah Martin (United Kingdom)

‘Finger, Spinster, Serial Killer’, Brandon Mc Ivor (Trinidad and Tobago)

‘The Great Indian Tee and Snakes’, Kritika Pandey (India)

‘The Faraway Things’, Alboricah Tokologo Rathupetsane (South Africa)

‘A Breath, a Bunk, a Land, a Sky’, Fiona Sussman (New Zealand)

‘Cash and Carry’, Sharma Taylor (Jamaica)

‘The Eternally Obvious is Not Obvious to Me’, Marcia Walker (Canada)

 

 

In its ninth year, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from the Commonwealth. This year’s shortlist was chosen from 5107 entries from 49 Commonwealth countries, and includes one translation into English, and for the first time, a story from The Gambia.

Chair of the Judges, Ghanaian writer and editor Nii Ayikwei Parkes, said:

‘Beyond their basic plots, the best stories are elevated by the language in which they are told. In this judging process, the fine language has also undoubtedly been that of my fellow judges, who add nuance, colour, fun and a profound knowledge of trends in their regions to discussions. The result of the time we’ve spent indulging in the submissions to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is a shortlist of 20 unique stories. These stories, drawn from all over the globe, are as harrowing as they are uplifting, funny while being tragic—and defiant in the face of politics, bigotry and injustice. But, crucially, at a time like this, with the world beset with myriad challenges and a devastating virus, the stories are grounded in faith, hope and the humanity we all share.’

 

‘Rites Evasion Maneuvers’, Caleb Ozovehe Ajinomoh (Nigeria)

Three brothers turn tricks at their father’s funeral. 

'Funerals are expensive, because the living have made dying an industry. Brother One, a grief consultant, knows this better than anyone. In fact, those words can be found on the bottom of the slim leaflets he distributes at Rites Evasion Maneuvers...'

Caleb Ozovehe Ajinomoh was awarded a residency at Ledig House, Art Omi, New York in 2018. He has won the W. Morgan and Lou Claire Rose award, as well as the L.D Clark and LaVerne Harrell Clark Award. His work appears in QZThe OffingNecessary Fiction, Catapultadda, AFREADACircleShowAWP Writers’ Chronicle, and the Goethe Institute anthology, Limbe to Lagos. He is a fiction candidate at Texas State University in the United States

www.calebajinomoh.com

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Listen to Caleb talk about his submission

‘Ouroboros, Ouroboros’, Sharmini Aphrodite (Malaysia)

A young woman goes back to her ancestral village, where – years after the last one was seen – she is terrorised by a tiger. 

'When she saw the tiger the world had been wet with colour. Trembling on the edge of evening, everything either as thick as blood or as delicate as water. Her skin was soft and gleaming from her well bath; walking along the pathway she felt protected, shrouded in a skin stitched with light.'
Credit: Verkur

Sharmini Aphrodite was born in Borneo. She was raised in, and still lives between, the cities of Johor Bahru and Singapore. Her short fiction has been published in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal (2015); Smokelong Quarterly (2015); this is how you walk on the moon: an anthology of anti-realist fiction (Ethos Books, 2016); Australian Book Review Jolley Prize, Second (2018); and Golden Point Awards, Silver (2017). Her art essay was runner-up for Frieze Magazine’s Art Writing Prize, (2017). 

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Listen to Sharmini talk about her submission

‘The Dawning’, Aba Asibon (Ghana)

A housekeeper works to balance the mourning of her beloved employer with carrying out her domestic duties, the most challenging of which is the nurturing of her dejected madam. 

'The shrine itself is modest, an old coffee table covered in about a yard of scalloped Chantilly lace. On the table sits a thirty-by-twenty-four-inch portrait of Mr Atta wearing his signature pensive expression, flanked by a vase of fresh flowers and a brass holder filled with incense sticks. The shrine is Mansa’s handiwork, a befitting memorial for a good man.'

Aba Amissah Asibon was born and raised in Ghana. Her short fiction has been published in GuernicaThe University of Chester’s Flash Magazine and The Johannesburg Review of Books. She was also longlisted for the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize for Short Fiction and featured in the prize’s anthology Migrations. Aba currently lives in Malawi and is working on her debut novel.

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Listen to Aba talk about her submission

‘Attention’, Catherine Chidgey (New Zealand)

Aaron’s career as a child star is cut short when he takes on his most challenging role – one that will never quite leave him. 

'I was on the news again – the first time in more than a decade. My girlfriend and I were eating dinner on our laps (macaroni cheese from the freezer; we’d left the honeymoon phase far behind) and there I was, the lead story. The footage was twenty-six years old and Jacinta did not recognise me.'
Credit: Helen Mayall

Catherine Chidgey is an award-winning New Zealand writer whose five novels have attracted international acclaim, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (South East Asia and South Pacific)She has won the Katherine Mansfield Award, the Betty Trask Awardthe Janet Frame Fiction Prize and the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize – New Zealand’s most prestigious literary award. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Waikato. Her new novel, Remote Sympathy, is released in October 2020. 

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Listen to Catherine talk about her submission

‘The Teeth on the Bus Go Round and Round’, Dinesh Devarajan (India)

A grieving widow and her adolescent son go in search of a pair of lost dentures while being teased by her dead husband.

'About a week after he died, Appa sauntered towards Amma’s closed second floor window and whistled loudly with his fingers in his mouth. Still whistling he clambered up the ladder, leapt lightly into her dreams and immediately began to do improbable things.'

Dinesh Devarajan is a 37 year old project manager in an IT services firm in India. His short stories have been published in the Times of India’s Write India Stories, Season 1, and the short story collections Two is Company and City of Gods (both UNISUN Publishers). His story ‘Dead Heat’ won the Sunday Herald short story competition 2015. He lives in Bangalore with his wife Nandini and five year old daughter Avantika who constantly challenges him to come  up with a new story every night.

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Listen to Dinesh talk about his submission

‘Mafootoo’, Brian S. Heap (Jamaica)

A Jamaican woman living in England confronts a crisis late in her life. She uses the occasion to reflect on her life and her marriage. 

'The people at Number 24 are lovely. They’re Jamaican. Which is not unusual in itself given what’s happened to immigration in this country since the War. But they are lovely. They have fitted in so well. On this road at any rate. We did have our concerns at first. But they are very quiet. Well you hear such stories. Look at what happened in Tottenham. But you hardly ever hear or see the Grandisons at all.'

Brian S. Heap is the retired Senior Lecturer, Staff Tutor in Drama and Head of the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. He has worked in Drama and Education in Jamaica for over forty years. With Pamela Bowell he co-authored Planning Process Drama: Enriching Teaching and Learning (2001, 2013) and Putting Process Drama into Action (2017) as well as several conference papers and articles for refereed journals. He served as Conference Director and Convener of the Fifth International Drama in Education Research Institute (2006) in Kingston, Jamaica. He was honoured with the Silver Musgrave Medal by the Institute of Jamaica in 2002. 

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Listen to Brian talk about his submission

‘When a Woman Renounces Motherhood’, Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Nigeria)

A woman and her mother bond in the face of a sexist tradition. 

'Read this between clenched teeth, a taut smirk plastered on your face. Try to taste each word as it escapes your mouth, like air.

When a woman renounces motherhood, no one asks her why she did it. How dare you give up on a beautiful thing; nature's call embedded in your vagina, crested on your breasts?'

Innocent Chizaram Ilo is an Igbo writer from Nigeria. Their works interrogate gender, class, memory, and sexuality and have been published in literary magazines across four continents. They are a finalist of the Gerald Kraak Award, Short Story Day Africa, and Wilbur Smith Author Of Tomorrow prizes. They have also won the Africa YMCA and Oxford Festival of the Arts short story contests. Their works have been published in Fireside Magazine, Overland, Strange Horizons, Cosmic Roots And Eldritch Shores, Cast Of WondersTranscendent 4: Best Of The Year Transgender Speculative Fiction Anthology, Short Story Day ID Anthologyand Heart Of The Matter: Gerald Kraak Award Anthology. 

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Listen to Innocent talk about his submission

‘The Shedding’, Nafisa A. Iqbal (Bangladesh)

The saree binds a man to his mother, while prejudice threatens to tear them apart. What will he do when forced to choose between acceptance and family, love and motherland? 

'He lay back in the hot water, thinking of his boyhood summers back home in Dhaka; how on the hottest of days, his mother would freeze the milk jelly hearts of the ​taal​ fruit, cut fresh from palm trees in a bucket of ice. When the sun had beat him down to a pulp, he would run back home, dig into the ice and find the cooled ​taal i​n his palm like a giant pearl.'

Nafisa A. Iqbal was born and raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh. As a storyteller, her choice of mediums include visual art, animation, and writing. Through her writing, Nafisa aims to highlight strands of personal experience in the greater tapestry of the Bangladeshi narrative, one that has been obscured time and time again by dominant cultural dogmas. In 2015, she moved to New York City in the US, where she graduated from The New School. 

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Listen to Nafisa talk about her submission

‘An Instruction Manual: How to Find Your Vagina’, Maham Javaid (Pakistan)

Self help books typically instruct readers how to improve their lives. This short story turns that concept on its head as it attempts to walk readers through a life that is unravelling

'Allow yourself to feel overwhelmed. You could release yourself from the stirrups, thank everyone in the room, grab your sweatshirt from the thermometer-shaped hook behind the door and go to school. If you left now, you’d be just in time for Media Law. You could also go to the apartment you share with your Colombian classmate, borrow the mirror she uses to pop zits, place it between your legs and search for the truth.'
Credit: Maazin Kamal

Maham Javaid is a journalist from Karachi, Pakistan. She reports on politics surrounding ethnic, religious, and gender minorities, and the stories she can’t tell in black and white are translated into fiction. She is the inaugural winner of the Zeenat Haroon Rashid Writing Prize for Women 2019.  Her winning story was published by Eos Magazine at Dawn.com.  Her journalistic stories have been published in The Nation, Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera America, Dawn, The News on Sunday, The Diplomatand Refinery29Maham is currently a Finberg Fellow at Human Rights Watch in New York City. 

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Listen to Maham talk about her submission

‘Provenance’, Jason Jobin (Canada)

Provenance is the story of two friends on the road, one a drifter, the other a living crash test dummy, and they’re being followed. 

'A fine quest. Roar of AC. Shirt long since bonded to the seat- back. Sun so hot it looked to be spinning. Carl sat with his beige polymer left leg hitched up on the dashboard, head to the side, a very teen-girl posture. Whether he even got hot, I wasn’t sure. Carl in loose tan shorts and a billowing Hawaiian shirt of crimson lotus petals. The oversize joints of his fingers looked like vertebrae. He said he didn’t mind when I stared at him. When I gaped or examined. That these things took time and only made sense gradually. That as long I drove him to The City, we were all good.'

Jason Jobin was born and raised in the Yukon, northwest Canada. He completed a BA and MFA in writing at the University of Victoria, British Colombia. His stories have won a National Magazine Award and been anthologised in the 2018 and 2019 Writers’ Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. His stories have also been published in The Malahat Review and Event MagazineIn 2018, Jason was longlisted for the CBC Nonfiction Prize. He currently lives in Victoria and is at work on a novel and a collection of stories.  

Twitter/Instagram @jobinjason 

 

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Listen to Jason talk about his submission

‘Fatou vs. the Dictator’, ML Kejera (The Gambia)

Fatou, a young woman raised in The G’s diaspora, is in an airport awaiting her flight home. She comes across her recently ousted dictator and debates whether she should confront him. 

'He wore a white boubou and blue jeans. Official press releases had given him an ineffable supremacy that reality shattered. Without the propaganda to smoothen him out, he was an ugly man. Wrinkles lined his pitch black face and he carried a globular stomach. But, whenever he shifted in his seat, Fatou saw the sinewy remnants of the 31 year old general—more lean muscle than man—who had overthrown The G’s first democratically elected president.'

ML Kejera is a Chicagobased author from The Gambia. Though born in Bakau, he left the country with his family in 1999. He has lived in Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the US. He speaks English and French and can understand Mandinka. His work has been published in riverSedge, The Cafe Irreal, Sleaze Mag, Strange Horizons, Riddled With ArrowsPopulaPanelxPanel, and The OutlineHe is currently working on a short story collection about The G, for which he is seeking representation. 

Twitter: @KejeraL

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Listen to Muhammad talk about his submission

‘Το χρέος’ (‘The Debt’), Nikolas Kyriacou (Cyprus)

Translated from Greek into English by Lina Protopapa (Cyprus)

‘The Debt’ is a story about the agonising effect that enforced disappearance has on human beings, and the impasses facing humanity due to conflict.

'Σε αυτή τη χώρα, έχουμε όλοι ονόματα πεθαμένων. Αυτόν που χάθηκε και που δεν ξέρουμε πού είναι, πώς θα τον μνημονεύουμε τώρα; Σαν ζωντανό ή σαν νεκρό; Να τον ξεχάσουμε ή να τον καρτερούμε; Κανένας μας δεν είναι από μόνος του φτιαγμένος. Μόνο απ’ των προγόνων του τα ιερά οστά κι απ’ του Θεού τη χάρη είναι πλασμένος.

Απέτυχα. Έχασα τον άνθρωπο μέσα από χέρια μου, η ατολμία και η δειλία μού έπνιξαν τη φωνή, παρέλυσαν την κάθε πράξη.'
'In this country, our names are dead people’s names. But what of the one who has gone missing? How will we refer to him? As a living person or as a dead person? Should we forget him or wait for him? None of us creates his own self. We are all created out of the holy bones of our ancestors and by God’s grace.

I failed. I let the man slip through my hands, pusillanimity and cowardice drowned my voice, they paralysed my every move.'

Nikolas Kyriacou was born in Kavala (Greece) and grew up in Cyprus. He holds a Ph.D. in law. After working as lawyer in Cyprus, he moved to Luxembourg where he is currently working at the Court of Justice of the EU. He is the author of 10+1 μύθοι για το Κυπριακό (10+1 Myths for the Cyprus Problem), published by Psifides in 2020. He used to play the saxophone and probably suffers from bibliomania. He has two children with Marianna Bonellou. 

 

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Listen to Nikolas talk about his submission

Lina Protopapa is a translator based in Nicosia, Cyprus. Her translation of Constantia Soteriou’s ‘Death Customs’ from Greek received the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

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‘The Art of Waving’, Andrea E. Macleod (Australia)

As a child a woman is told by her older sister not to wave to people. She reflects on how this changed her and the connections she has been both able and unable to make as a result. 

'I was seven when my sister taught me you did not have to wave at people just because they waved at you. I asked her if she meant like when we were standing in the bank line with our dead mother’s boyfriend just after she had died and the guard sitting at the door winked and waved. My sister said waving was social influence and "if we are not careful other people will make us what we are". She also said I expect nothing from you. You are neither a flower nor a thorn.'

Andrea E. Macleod is a Brisbane writer, poet and journalist. In her journalism she is passionate about issues of equality and justiceShe is studying literature, working on a collection of short stories and a novella. Most recently her work was shortlisted for the Newcastle Short Story Award and long-listed for the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize.  

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Listen to Andrea talk about her submission

‘Wherever Mister Jensen Went’, Reyah Martin (United Kingdom)

‘Wherever Mr Jensen Went’ is a story which explores the power of rumour and hysteria, for better or for worse.  This story challenges society, calling for change before it’s too late… 

'Mister Jensen don’ smoke tobacco. Smokes fly-blood instead, an’ dust from the wind.

Mister Jensen ain’t got nobody. Killed his wife an’ all his kids. Keeps a gun behind the screen-door.

An’ he ain’t never prayed in his life. Man won’t never get to Heaven.



Least that’s what the kids say.'

Born in Scotland, Reyah Martin has featured in several online publications, and was a finalist in the BBC Young Writers’ Award 2018.  She is a member of the Scottish NYAAG (National Youth Arts Advisory Group), and an undergraduate of Journalism and Creative Writing at Strathclyde University.  When she is not writing, she tutors English and Creative Writing with a focus on encouraging young people.  She is currently working on her debut novel.   

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Listen to Reyah talk about her submission

‘Finger, Spinster, Serial Killer’, Brandon Mc Ivor (Trinidad and Tobago)

The conversation of two Alphabet City bar-goers twists and turns until it settles in morbid territory: a serial killer from one of their pasts.

'“How did you lose it?” she asked.

I rubbed my fingers against my glass and turned to face her. It was a cheap bar, but she'd dressed expensive: red satin dress; loud, really well done makeup, a Coach clutch on the counter beside her.

“You know, there are some people who would consider a question like that quite rude,” I said. [...]

“Did you think I was quite rude just now?” she asked.

“You're lucky I didn’t. Actually, it's a story I quite like telling”.'

Brandon Mc Ivor was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. He received his B.Sc in English Literature at New York University, and currently works as an English teacher in Ehime, Japan.  His work has been published in a number of magazines and online, including The Caribbean Writer and Akashic Books’ flash fiction series. 

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Listen to Brandon talk about his submission

‘The Great Indian Tee and Snakes’, Kritika Pandey (India)

This is a story of two young people trying to solve the age-old riddle of human existence: how does one love in the era of hatred and prejudice? 

'The girl with the black bindi knows that she is not supposed to glance at the boy in the white skull cap but she does. The boy moves restlessly on a stool at the roadside stall as he cradles a cup of chai in his hands. The girl has flavored it with cardamom for no extra cost before swallowing the leftover pod so her father won’t find out. He is the mustachioed owner who cleans his ears with q-tips at the cash counter. The girl looks up from the boiling contents of the saucepan, pretending not to notice any new customers while examining the contours of the boy’s stubbly chin, the kite-shaped birthmark on his neck.'

Kritika Pandey is a Pushcart-nominated Indian writer and a final year MFA candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is a recipient of a 2020 grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her works are forthcoming or have appeared in GuernicaThe CommonThe Bombay Literary MagazineRaleigh Review, and UCity Review, among others. She has won the Harvey Swados Fiction Prize, the Cara Parravani Memorial Award, and the Charles Wallace Scholarship for Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. 

 

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Listen to Kritika talk about her submission

‘The Faraway Things’, Alboricah Tokologo Rathupetsane (South Africa)

This story is a journey of life through Lesedi’s eyes, a young boy whose mental limitations have prevented him from accepting a tragic event in his life.  

'Lesedi knew he wasn’t right in the head. He heard someone say it at least once every day. ‘There goes Mokgadi’s son,’ they would always mutter, ‘don’t mind him, he’s not right in the head.’ Not that he understood why his head wasn’t right. Everyone said it, but no one had ever bothered to explain their reasons for thinking it. Although he was sometimes curious about it, he never asked because that would require talking – which he preferred to avoid.'

Alboricah Tokologo Rathupetsane is a 28 year old writer from South Africa whose passions are writing and art which she uses to express her feelings and ideas. Alboricah grew up in a rural village in the Province of Limpopo, South Africa, and currently lives and works in Port Elizabeth. 

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Listen to Alboricah talk about her submission

‘A Breath, a Bunk, a Land, a Sky’, Fiona Sussman (New Zealand)

young Syrian asylum seeker navigates a new life in Aotearoa, New Zealand. 

'I stop. Look up. This sky is crammed with clouds and a taunt of blue.

I steal a breath. It carries the weight of water and smells of rain. Rain.

‘Thank you for flying with us.’

The woman is like Hollywood. I do not know what to do with her smile.

I climb down the stairs. Yellow lights flash. Trucks beep. A man in a fluorescent jacket waves small round bats in the air. Planes wait in line like obedient dogs.'

Fiona Sussman is an award-winning novelist and shortstory writer, who was born in South Africa and moved to New Zealand in 1989. She worked as a family doctor before hanging up her stethoscope to pursue another long-held dream – to write. When not writing or mentoring creative writing students, she helps manage the charitable surgical service she and her husband established in Auckland.

www.fionasussman.co.nz 

 

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Listen to Fiona talk about her submission

‘Cash and Carry’, Sharma Taylor (Jamaica)

‘Cash and Carry’ is about a Jamaican adolescent girl’s search for identity and acceptance, which ultimately leads her to face the truth about the father she doesn’t know but longs for, her unstable mother, those around her whom she loves and, most importantly, herself.

'Is the first time I going to Kingston and is ‘cause I going to find my Daddy. I don’t know what my Daddy look like and him don’t know me.

Granny and me squeeze into a jam-packed country bus. The sun hot like it beating you skin with a rubber strap. The whole load of we in a giant cake-tin hotter than Granny’s oven. The old bus creaking and shuddering every time it drop down a pothole.'

A lawyer by profession, a writer by passion, Sharma Taylor was the inaugural winner of the 2019 Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize (for fiction) for emerging writers, administered by the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad and Tobago and Arvon in the UK. She was also the winner of the 22nd annual Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award in 2020, sponsored by the Central Bank of Barbados. Her work has been previously shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and longlisted in Mslexia’s 2019 Women’s Flash Fiction Competition.  She won the gold medal three times in Barbados’ annual National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) Literary Competitions as well as the Best Adult Short Story Writer award in 2019 in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s (JCDC) Jamaica Creative Writing Competition. Sharma’s stories have been published in a number of anthologies and journals, including The Caribbean Writer and The Jamaica Journal.

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Listen to Sharma talk about her submission

‘The Eternally Obvious is Not Obvious to Me’, Marcia Walker (Canada)

In ‘The Eternally Obvious is Not Obvious to Me’ a woman, unable to cope after the death of her girlfriend, seeks out “Jesus”, an alternative healer, while also tracking down the source of the anonymous graphic sexual texts she repeatedly receives. 

'On the second anniversary of Margot’s death I met Jesus. He was holed up in one of those furnished condos on Bolton Avenue that attract newly divorced dads and low-level executives staying in the city for less than three months. The kind of place where each door has dampeners fixed to its hinges, making them impossible to slam. That alone prevents me from living in a place like that.'

Marcia Walker’s writing has appeared in The New QuarterlyFiddleheadThe New York TimesPRISM international, RoomEVENTAntigonish ReviewUniversity of Toronto Magazine, This Magazine, The Globe and MailCBC radio and The Broken Social Scene Story ProjectShe has been shortlisted for PRISM’s fiction and non-fiction prize, the Writers’ Union of Canada short prose competition. She lives in Toronto. 

 

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Listen to Marcia talk about her submission

 

If you would like to enter the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, it will open for submissions on 1 September and close for submissions on 1 November 2020. Please find the entry rules and guidelines here: 2021 rules and guidelines.