How Nigerians rule Commonwealth Short Story Prize
Four Nigerians have won the regional prize since its inception in 2012, but the ultimate prize has evaded the continent yet…
The 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize is currently open for submissions and will close on November 1. Although no Nigerian (or African) has taken the ultimate prize yet (from the entire commonwealth), four have won the regional category in seven years, making Nigeria the dominant African winner so far.
Nigeria’s Jekwu Anyaegbuna was the first African to win in the inaugural edition for ‘Morrison Okoli (1955-2010), a story about the activities and eventual demise of a drug dealer. Other regional winners for that year were Anushka Jasrai (Asia) from India for ‘Radio Story’, Andrea Mullaney (Canada and Europe) from the United Kingdom for ‘The Ghost Marriage’ and Diana McCaulay (Caribbean) from Jamaica for ‘The Dolphin Catcher’. New Zealand’s Emma Martin who clinched the Pacific region prize was overall winner for her story, ‘Two Girls in a Boat’.
In 2013 and 2014, South Africa and Uganda, consecutively, grabbed the Commonwealth Prize for the African region. However, in 2015 the win returned to Nigeria when Lesley Nneka Arimah won for, ‘Light’, a story that revolves around a father’s coming to terms with his daughter’s development, and the fragmentation of a family.
Since an ‘interlude’ the following year (2016) where a South African won the African regional prize, Nigeria clinched it in 2017 and 2018. After trying a couple of times, Akwaeke Emezi didn’t give up until she won in 2017 with her story, ‘Who is Like God’. The very next year (2018), Efua Traore became the winner for ‘True Happiness’, a story about a boy’s struggle with what the essence of true happiness is, whether it’s in the decisions he personally takes or by his church pastor’s definition. Again, the ultimate winner doesn’t come from Africa. Kevin Jared Hosein from Trinidad and Tobago (from the Caribbean) took the prize for his story, ‘Passage’.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is an annual award for unpublished short fiction administered and funded by the Commonwealth Foundation. The stories required for the contest are adult fiction of between 2,000 and 5,000 words. There are also no restrictions on setting, theme, or genre. Five winners are selected by judges from the five Commonwealth regions of Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, Caribbean, and Pacific. One regional winner is usually picked as overall winner. He or she receives £5000 (over N2m) and the remaining four regional winners £2,500 (over N1m).
Nigeria clinched it in 2017 and 2018. After trying a couple of times, Akwaeke Emezi didn’t give up until she won in 2017 with her story, ‘Who is Like God’. The very next year (2018), Efua Traore became the winner for ‘True Happiness’ Anyaegbuna was the first African to win in the inaugural edition for ‘Morrison Okoli (1955-2010), a story about the activities and eventual demise of a drug dealer