The 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Posted on 30/06/2020
By Commonwealth Foundation
Regional Winners The Shortlist Judges 2020 Ceremony

Kritika Pandey was announced as the overall winner of the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her story ‘The Great Indian Tee and Snakes’ in June 2020. The award was presented by the Chair of the 2020 judging panel, acclaimed Ghanaian writer and editor, Nii Ayikwei Parkes in our first ever online ceremony, available to watch now. We were joined by all of the 2020 regional winners, five very special guest readers, and some familiar faces from previous years’ prizes.

The 2020 Prize attracted over 5000 entries from 49 countries. The prize is judged by an international panel of writers, representing each of the five regions of the Commonwealth. Chaired by Nii Ayikwei Parkes, the 2020 panel comprised South African writer and musician Mohale Mashigo (Judge for Africa), Executive Director of the Singapore Books Council William Phuan (Asia), Canadian author Heather O’Neill (Canada and Europe), Trinidadian scholar and writer Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw (Caribbean), and Australian writer and arts organiser Nic Low (Pacific).

‘I've experienced every possible emotion ever since I received the news. At times, I'm overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, and a sense of fulfillment or reeling with disbelief. At other times, I’m devastated by the fate of my fictional characters who seem all too real to me, a feeling compounded by the tragedies presently unfolding around us. However, more than anything else, this prize strengthens my will to write. It tells me that all those days when I lock myself in my room to stare into a computer screen, unsettled and unsure, might just be a worthwhile way of engaging with the world. It reminds me that I must, therefore, continue to inquire into the human condition, to make sense of existence, to listen carefully, to resist, and to hope.’
Kritika Pandey

Kritika Pandey’s winning story, ‘The Great Indian Tee and Snakes’, tells of an unlikely friendship which reaches across religious divides, set against the background of a tea seller’s stall. She writes of two young people trying to solve an age-old riddle of human existence: how can love overcome the forces of hatred and prejudice? Pandey says, ‘I created a strong-willed character of a Hindu girl who chooses to love a Muslim boy, even though she knows that she is not “supposed to”.’ An extract from the story was read at the ceremony by award-winning Bollywood actress Swara Bhasker, and you can read ‘The Great Indian Tee and Snakes’ now on Granta.

The moment Chair Nii Ayikwei Parkes tells Kritika Pandey she is the Overall winner of the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

‘The Great India Tee and Snakes is a gut-punch of a story, remarkable because, in spite of its fraught subject matter, it never neglects the beauty of the world in which the story unfolds. Kritika Pandey infuses the tale with empathy and balance, allowing the characters to inhabit themselves fully, while dragging the narrative to its inevitable end. It's a story that asks important questions about identity, prejudice and nationhood, using metaphors with devastating effect, while still brimming with its author's revelry in the possibilities of language. Its charged conclusion is all the more shocking given that most of it is set at a tea seller's stall and its energy derives from a few looks between a boy and a girl. My fellow judges and I loved the story when we first read it, and love it more each time we read it. Congratulations to Kritika!’
Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Chair of the Judges

Kritika Pandey is a Pushcart-nominated Indian writer and a final year candidate for a Master of Fine Arts 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.

Commenting on the judging process, Nii said: ‘Picking the overall winner from the five regional winners is always the most difficult part of the judging process, because different judges like different stories. In our quest to convince each other, we exhort our fellow judges to reread a number of stories and that process of re-reading is always precious. In that span of time, we discover each story anew, often falling in love with stories that we didn’t love at first read. It was at this stage that this year’s winning story began to haunt us all. As I promised when we picked the regional winners, this is a story that will move people. I hope you enjoy it.’

‘It is a delight and a privilege to head the agency that is responsible for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The Foundation exists to give voice to the 2.3 billion citizens of the Commonwealth and the Prize is central to that goal. The winning story weaves a glorious tapestry out of love and loss: reminding us that  human connection is, in the end, the truest measure of a life well-lived.'
Dr Anne T. Gallagher AO, Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation

The 2020 regional winners are: Africa winner Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Nigeria), Canada and Europe winner Reyah Martin (United Kingdom), Caribbean winner Brian S. Heap (Jamaica), and Pacific winner Andrea E. Macleod (Australia).

In partnership with Commonwealth Writers, the literary magazine Granta publishes online all the regional winners of the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, including ‘The Great Indian Tee and Snakes.’

We would like to thank all of our partners and all those involved in this year’s Prize – this year’s judging panel, readers, entrants, Paper + Ink and Granta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper + Ink is proud to publish the new anthology featuring the winners of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2020. For more about our series of classic and contemporary short fiction from around the world, and to browse, purchase books or subscribe, visit: www.paperand.ink

If you would like to enter the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, the 2021 Prize will be open for online entries from 1 September 2020 – 1 November 2020, please find the entry rules and guidelines here: 2021 rules and guidelines.