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The origins of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Posted on 21/04/2021
By Commonwealth Foundation

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, we’re going back to where it all began. Today we hear from the founder of Commonwealth Writers, Lucy Hannah.

As someone who sets up creative programmes, I care about new writers having an opportunity to share their work with a wider audience, both locally and globally.

In the year we set up the Commonwealth Short Story Prize (2011), unpublished writers across the Commonwealth, particularly in areas without a local publishing industry, needed more ways to reach international readers and to enhance the wider literary landscape.

For 25 years, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize had done great work recognising the best published fiction from the 54 countries of the Commonwealth.

However, with many prizes offering published writers recognition and with a host organisation rooted in international development, it was time to rethink how best to acknowledge less established writers.

We didn’t want to lose the essence of the iconic Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, nor its aims of encouraging reading and the promotion of ideas across borders.

After talking to writers from around the world about their lack of opportunities, particularly in the Caribbean and Pacific Islands, we decided to launch a holistic programme – Commonwealth Writers – to unearth new voices, with a short story prize at its heart.

The prize would be a catalyst for finding and identifying diverse, regional writers who could go on to inspire their local communities.

We spread the word as far as we could via radio stations and local media to attract new writers at the beginning of their career.

Slowly the Commonwealth Short Story Prize gathered momentum and the 2,000 entries in 2012 have led to more than 6,000 today in eleven languages and from almost every Commonwealth country.


In ten years, the prize has gone on to achieve what we’d wanted – to celebrate and bring the best new writing, often in local languages, to the attention of a global audience.

Here’s wishing the Commonwealth Short Story Prize a very happy birthday and many more fruitful years ahead.

Best wishes,

Lucy Hannah
Director, Untold

Lucy Hannah specialises in setting up and delivering creative initiatives with marginalised communities. She is founder and director of Untold http://untold-stories.org/ . She founded and led Commonwealth Writers which operates across 53 countries, particularly in areas with little or no creative industries. While at the BBC, she established BBC Writer’s Room which discovers, develops and champions new writing talent across the UK. She is a Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College, London, Director of the BOCAS LitFest in Trinidad and a trustee of Vital Xposure Theatre.