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…

Weekly Trust - - Bookshelf - Nathaniel Bi­van

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

Ak­waeke Emezi

Efua Traore

Les­ley Nneka Arimah

Jekwu Anyaeg­buna

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