The winner of the 2024 Commonwealth Short Story Prize has been announced. Find out more.

2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Regional Winners

Posted on 10/05/2021
By Commonwealth Foundation

We are pleased to announce this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize regional winners!

The overall winner was announced during a special award ceremony with the regional winners and special guests on Wednesday 30 June. The winner’s announcement and link to the online event can be found here.

Now in its tenth year, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from the Commonwealth. This year’s regional winners have risen to the top from a record 6423 entries from 50 Commonwealth countries. Details of the shortlist can be found here.

Chair of the Judges, South African novelist Zoë Wicomb, said:

‘Rereading a smaller group of stories, looking at them once again in the fiercer, narrower light of competition, is a daunting step in the judging process. We celebrate difference and recoil from the idea of ranking works that are so diverse and encompass such a range of subjects, but that is what we agreed to do. We have come to know these stories intimately, thought about them more carefully after previous debates, and juggled them in our hearts. Thus we meet with fingers crossed and loins girded for agonistic discussion and argumentation. But we have also come to know and trust each other in this process, and so we arrive at our regional winners with their captivating stories of insight and compassion, stories that in their distinctive voices speak to our troubled times.’

Zoë Wicomb is joined on the international judging panel by a judge from each of the five Commonwealth regions: A. Igoni Barrett (Africa), Khademul Islam (Asia), Keith Jarrett (Canada and Europe), Diana McCaulay (the Caribbean) and Tina Makereti (the Pacific).

The five regional winners’ stories were published online by the literary magazine Granta in the run-up to the announcement of the overall winner on 30 June. They are also published in a special print edition by Paper + Ink, available online and in bookshops from 30 June.

Read on to hear more from the winners.

Press contact: Ruth Killick  publicity@ruthkillick.co.uk
Commonwealth Writers contact: writers@commonwealth.int

A F R I C A

‘Granddaughter of the Octopus’, Rémy Ngamije (Namibia)

Recounting a family history of love, violence, and dispossession, ‘Granddaughter of the Octopus’ is an experimental short story filled with humour, voice, and quiet, earnest truths.

'Granddaughter of the Octopus' is a psychologically astute portrait of a larger-than-life character whose rollicking essence is distilled into the reader’s imagination through concise prose, yes, and poetic detail, yes again. But there’s also that extra magic of the writer who wields metaphor like a whip cracking at untamed life. The unforgettable matriarch of this bittersweet tale is audacious, indecorous, and unabashedly sensual, all of which, and much, much more—I must add hilarious—are captured in a voice both raw and tender as a welt. To quote the story’s narrator, “The past always wins.” But the future, in the transfiguring writing of Rémy Ngamije, is winning this time.
- Judge, A. Igoni Barrett

Rémy Ngamije is a Rwandan-born Namibian writer and photographer. He is the founder, chairperson, and artministrator of Doek, an independent arts organisation in Namibia supporting the literary arts. He is also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Doek! Literary Magazine, Namibia’s first and only literary magazine.

His debut novel The Eternal Audience of One is forthcoming from Scout Press (S&S). His work has appeared in The Johannesburg Review of Books, Brainwavez, American Chordata, Azure, Sultan’s Seal, Columbia Journal, Lolwe, and many other places. He was shortlisted for the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing in 2020. He was also longlisted for the 2020 and 2021 Afritondo Short Story Prizes. In 2019 he was shortlisted for Best Original Fiction by Stack Magazines.

More of his writing can be read on his website: remythequill.com

‘It is my firm belief that finishing any piece of writing is an achievement. Finding the courage to write a story and then having the patience to complete it can sometimes be the hardest part. Then, to have the confidence to submit one’s writing for consideration for publication or for a literary prize is also a special feat. It is not easy to subject one’s work to scrutiny or subjective evaluation. It is thus quite special to participate in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, a literary event in which talented writers from around the world find fellowship through the act of storytelling. In doing so, each writer found the courage to tell a particular story that mattered to them, the patience to write and revise their narratives, and the conviction to submit their writings to a wonderful and experienced panel of judges for reading.

It is my hope this recognition encourages more writers from my home country, and those from less established literary traditions, to continue their writing journeys, to find the courage, patience, and confidence needed to participate in this intercontinental community of storytelling.’

Rémy Ngamije

Watch Rémy talk about his regional winning story
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A S I A

‘I Cleaned The—’,  Kanya D’Almeida (Sri Lanka)

‘I Cleaned The—’ is a story about the dirty work: domestic labour, abandonment, romantic encounters behind bathroom doors, and human waste, which is to say—the things we leave behind.

Even among Asia’s gratifyingly strong showing in this year’s Commonwealth short fiction sweepstakes, Kanya’s submission stood out. A life-affirming story of love among the rambutan and clove trees of Sri Lanka – love for a baby not one’s own, love for a high-spirited elderly woman. Love found not among the stars but in human excrement. Literally. And all the more glorious for it. Just as class differences are subtly shaded, so too the narrator is aptly, and exquisitely, named Ishwari (Sanskrit for Goddess, with a capital ‘G’). A tale powerfully realized.
- Judge, Khademul Islam

Kanya D’Almeida is a Sri Lankan writer. Her fiction has appeared on Jaggery and The Bangalore Review. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. She’s working on a book of short stories about mad women. Kanya is the host of ‘The Darkest Light’, a podcast exploring birth and motherhood in Sri Lanka.

www.twitter.com/KanyaDalmeida 

‘Writing in the English language, in a former British colony, means you’re never quite at home in language. All around you a world is unfolding in other tongues; words must either be cramped or elongated to fit circumstances that are decidedly not English; and your characters themselves may be unfamiliar with the language of your own story! That’s why I believe the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is such a haven for writers across the world—it is perhaps the only forum large enough to accommodate the many expressions of language that thrive from region to region. To be in the company of such a diversity of voices, to have my story read by such a diversity of judges, and to see the story emerge as one of the regional winners, is one of the great honours of my life.’

Kanya D’Almeida

Watch Kanya talk about her regional winning story
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C A N A D A  A N D   E U R O P E

 ‘Turnstones’, Carol Farrelly (United Kingdom)

A young woman at a prestigious university battles with feelings she doesn’t belong when, one night, a storm blows in some unusual trespassers…

'Turnstones' is a story I’ve been compelled to revisit multiple times for its ideas, its spirit, the crescendo and surprise of its denouement and, of course, the triumphant trills. It is a story that lingers in the imagination, one that challenges the long shadow of power and of gatekeeping, of institutions and received wisdom, and brings us to a reckoning in today’s world. These complex ideas present simply, in the exchange between Jo and the porter, while the eponymous turnstones assert their presence. The writer is deft in the creation of an unsettling atmosphere inside a claustrophobic setting. ‘Turnstones’ handles humour, the too-familiar frustrations of being obstructed by inflexibility, the inevitable redressing of the balance, the power of storytelling, and so much more. Most crucially, it is a challenge to our perspectives, a wholly transformative piece.
- Judge, Keith Jarrett

Carol Farrelly is a fiction writer from Glasgow, Scotland. Her short stories have been widely published and broadcast on radio. Last year, she was shortlisted for The Society of Authors’ Tom-Gallon Award. She is a previous Jerwood/Arvon mentee and a Scottish Booktrust New Writer. She lived for one glorious year in Italy. She is currently working on a novel and a short story collection.

‘Winning the Commonwealth Short Story regional prize is an utter joy. To know my story spoke to these fantastic judges – it makes all the tussling with words and silences, and all the digging towards the right ending, feel worthwhile. It will make future tussles feel worthwhile too. It’s an honour to have my story chosen this year. I’m also thrilled my story will be published in Granta: it’s been my knee-high dream as a writer to be published in Granta’s pages. The Commonwealth Short Story Prize does so much to celebrate and share short stories from across the globe: it reminds us that storytelling is an instinct and need that can connect us all. This reminder seems more pertinent and poignant than ever after a year in which we’ve known so much separation.’

Carol Farrelly

Watch Carol talk about her regional winning story
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C A R I B B E A N

‘The Disappearance of Mumma Del’, Roland Watson-Grant (Jamaica)

A matriarch’s funeral gets derailed just before her body goes missing, causing panic in a rural Jamaican district that is also in danger of vanishing from the map.

A wiseass, pitch-perfect teenager tells the story of a pear tree near to the rail tracks of a bauxite train in a rural Jamaican district – no one will eat from this particular tree – but why? 'The Disappearance of Mumma Dell' teems with lightly but perfectly sketched and familiar characters – a hellfire preacher, a scammer, community elders and shadowy politicians. Promises are broken, warnings are ignored, and the now power of social media supersedes the then magic of obeah. Rich, funny and deeply rooted in the Jamaican countryside, this story reverberates with the drumbeats of the ancestors and delivers an incisive commentary on what gets protected, by whom and why.
- Judge, Diana McCaulay

Roland Watson-Grant is a Jamaican novelist, screenwriter and travel writer. His first novel Sketcher (2013) was published by Alma Books (UK) and has been translated into Turkish and Spanish. Roland was shortlisted for the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. He is a 2018 recipient of a Musgrave Award for Literature in his home country and his non-fiction work has been archived by the Smithsonian Libraries.

‘It’s a double-win for me. I have been among talented writers from across the globe who shared their fiction with the world and their personal realities by email. In what can be described as a singular historical moment and a worldwide storm, we have created a time capsule and found strength in a community of storytellers.

I entered Commonwealth Short Story Prize because I write in the spaces where cultures have conversations. I eavesdrop on what one culture – based on geography or time – has to share with another. I couldn’t ignore a platform that is dedicated to the very same thing.’

Roland Watson-Grant

Watch Roland talk about his regional winning story
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P A C I F I C

‘Fertile Soil’, Katerina Gibson (Australia)

Something is happening in the city a woman lives in, she is sure, something is not right—almost as if she’s no longer welcome.

The strangeness of 'Fertile Soil' dawns slowly: the narrator has increasingly odd encounters until she meets someone who has, in fact, been slowly replacing her, just as invasive species of tree replace natives, just as the city and its monuments replace what was there before. The judges loved this story for its layers, the way it speaks of place and displacement, colonisation, invasion and grief, and yet does so with such a light touch that it is also simply a story about deja vu, or the stuff that makes up a life. Sharply told, darkly humorous, surreal and clever, ‘Fertile Soil’ represents the Pacific region well.
- Judge, Tina Makereti

Katerina Gibson is a writer living in Melbourne. Their short stories have won the VU Short Story Prize, been longlisted for the Peter Carey, and otherwise been published in Overland, The Lifted Brow, and Kill Your Darlings. Most recently, they have had a story anthologised in New Australian Fiction 2020. They are currently at work on their first collection ‘Women I Know’.

‘Every year I’m floored on an emotional and technical level by the stories on the commonwealth prize shortlist, so I’m beyond honoured to be among them. Being the Pacific regional winner, and getting published in Granta, feels like accomplishing one of those lofty, absurd dreams, like starting a commune in Tasmania, or learning to fly light hobbyist planes—it’s all so ridiculous and delightful. I entered this year, like I have for the last couple of years, because it’s a phenomenal opportunity. Being recognised in the prize is a massive, validating relief: A highlight and a door opening all at once, I’m incredibly grateful.’

Katerina Gibson

Watch Katerina talk about their regional winning story
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