The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is a much-anticipated competition. Twenty-one outstanding stories have been selected by an international judging panel out of almost 6000 entries from 49 Commonwealth countries. In celebration of female writers and badass creatives, we decided to make a list of the women who made the shortlist.
These are the female writers that made it and the excerpts from their shortlisted stories.
Akwaeke Emezi (Nigeria)
Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil writer and video artist based in liminal spaces. She is a 2017 Global Arts Fund recipient, awarded by the Astraea Foundation for her video art, and her debut novel Freshwater is forthcoming from Grove Atlantic in Winter 2018.
Here is a short piece from her short story, Who Is Like God.
“My mother talked about God all the time, as if they were best friends, as if He was borrowing her mouth because maybe He trusted her that much or it was easier than burning bushes or He was just tired of thundering down from the skies and having no one listen to Him. I grew up thinking that He was folded into her body, very gently, like when she folded sifted icing sugar into beaten egg whites, those kinds of loving corners.”
Jinny Koh (Singapore)
Jinny Koh is the author of The Gods Will Hear Us Eventually (Ethos Books, forthcoming 2018), and her stories and essays have appeared in Kyoto Journal, Columbia Journal, Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume 2 (Epigram Books), Litro, and Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, among others. Here’s an excerpt from her short story, Close To Home.
“The year my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, my father sent me to live with my neighbour Aunty Loh. He said he couldn’t drive his taxi, ferry my mother to the hospital, and take care of me. It was only temporary, until my mother finished her round of chemotherapy, until things “settled down.” It was 1998. I was ten and didn’t want to live in a stranger’s home, although to be fair, Aunty Loh and her family weren’t strangers.”
Anushka Jasraj (India)
Anushka Jasraj is a fiction writer from Mumbai, India. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Women’s and Gender studies at the University of Texas-Austin, where she is writing a thesis project on Emily Dickinson. She was the Regional Winner for Asia, 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
Her short story is titled, Drawing Lessons.
“My husband has a mole on his left eyelid that looks like smudged kajal. Moles signify different things depending on the body part. I have one above my bellybutton, and I’m told it’s a sign of fertility, but this has proven untrue. A mole on or around the eyes could mean domestic trouble or bad luck with finances, Mr. Nayar the astrologer informs me. He wants a photograph of my husband’s mole, since my husband works all day, and could not accompany me for this consultation.”
Sarah Jackson (United Kingdom)
Sarah Jackson is a poet and academic living in Nottingham, UK. Her poetry collection Pelt (Bloodaxe, 2012) won the Seamus Heaney Prize and was the readers’ nomination for the Guardian First Book Award.
Her short story is Echolocation.
“Standing in the shade of a lime tree on a hot dusty afternoon, the boy waited for the bell to toll. He heard the bailiff cough and shuffle his papers through the open window across the market square, before St Étienne’s rang, sending out waves like the ripples from a dead-weight dropped in the middle of the quarry lake. After the sixth chime, Victor gave a small nod and then kicked a pebble into the gutter. It rattled through the grille and toppled down the drain and he would surely have heard it clatter when it hit the bottom (it hadn’t rained for weeks) but there was another sound.”
Ruth Lacey (Australia)
Ruth Lacey grew up in Sydney, earned her Arts-Law degree from the University of Melbourne, and an MPhil in Creative Writing from Glamorgan University, South Wales. Her stories appear or are forthcoming in Fish Anthology 2017, Litro Magazine, Carve and Overland, among others.
Here’s a snapshot of her story, Gauloises Blue.
“Even now, Zoë can remember all the prices in the Melbourne milk bar that her parents owned. Paddle Pops were seven cents. Sunny Boys were three. Violet Crumbles and Smith’s Crinkle Cut chips both sold for five, the same price as the bus fare to her high school. In those days, two dollars a week could get you anything you wanted.
But Zoë didn’t want those things. She didn’t want suede patchwork hot pants like the other girls or white knee-high vinyl boots and boob tubes. At a very early age, she understood the words Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint-Laurent, and she only wanted things they made.”
Caroline Gill (Canada)
Caroline Gill is a British-born aspiring author. The daughter of Vincentian emigrants, she and her family moved to Toronto in the 1970s. A love of words sparked a public relations career. She is currently working on her debut novel. Caroline holds Creative Writing Certificates from the University of Toronto and Humber School for Writers.
Gypsy in the Moonlight is her short story.
“I wish I had amnesia so I could forget Sally Burry. We were at school together, Sally and I, in the coastal hamlet where we were born, Heart’s Pen, on the Caribbean island of Perseverance. The descendants of African slaves predominantly populated Perseverance, but being from Heart’s Pen, Sally and I were Poor White. My people, our people, were Cromwell’s hangover, the inbred aftermath of a centuries’ forgotten British penal colony.”
Chloe Wilson (Australia)
Chloe Wilson is the author of two poetry collections, The Mermaid Problem and Not Fox Nor Axe, which was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize and the Judith Wright Calanthe Award. She was joint winner of the 2016 Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize.
Harbour is the title of her Short story.
“‘Listen to this, Nina,’ said Tilly. ‘The common death adder. Acanthophis antarcticus. Has the longest fangs of any snake in the country. Highly venomous, producing a neurotoxin which can paralyse and kill a human in six hours.’
‘Stop it, Tilly.’
She had bought a book called ‘What Snake Am I?’ and had been reading out excerpts for the entire journey. We needed books where we were going; no devices were allowed. The book showed, in loving glossy detail, the snakes which we might encounter: Taipan, Black Headed Python, King Brown.”
Jasmine Sealy (Canada)
Jasmine Sealy is a Barbadian-Canadian writer of short fiction. In 2014 she was shortlisted for the CBC Quebec Writing Competition. She has been previously published in Salut King Kong: New English Writing from Quebec (2014) and the Emerge Anthology (2016).
Here’s an excerpt from Hot Pot, her short story.
“Yesterday, before them find the body, I sat at the kitchen table and eat bakes and listen to the morning call-in program with Mummy. You ain’t come home and Mummy was real vex. This was before police come knocking and before men from The Nation and The Advocate come with big camera to take picture of Mummy crying on our veranda in her nightie, hair in rollers still. Before all of that, Mummy was smashing pots and pans around the kitchen, frying flying fish and cussin’ stink. Because the Devil take she first born child. And she should have known the day you were born with them light eyes and that clear skin that you was going to be force-ripe.”
Diane Awerbuck (South Africa)
Diane Awerbuck is a writer, reviewer and teacher, based in Cape Town. Her short stories are collected in Cabin Fever, and her latest highbrow-horror novel is Home Remedies. She is currently co-writing a frontier-fiction series with Alex Latimer, under the pen name Frank Owen.
Here’s an excerpt from Nagmaal, her short story.
“Klaas stood at the wire gate, folding his hat into a sweaty concertina in the dying heat. The jasmine festered over the fence, and the chainlink ticked: his aging heart kept time in skips and starts. Even after all these years the Master made him dry-mouthed, at a loss for words though they had grown up in the same language, knew one another by their smells and pores and whorls of hair.”
Myfanwy McDonald (Australia)
Myfanwy McDonald writes fiction. She lives in Melbourne, on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people. Her stories have been published in The Big Issue, Going Down Swinging and the Boston-based zine Infinite Scroll. In 2015 she was a resident at the Arteles Creative Center in Finland.
Numb is the title of her Short story.
“I ride down to the shops on my father’s bicycle. A white Peugeot racer with rusty gears. He can’t balance on a bicycle anymore. He can barely balance on his own two feet.
At the counter, a woman wearing large, thick-lensed glasses flicks through a pile of envelopes packed tightly in a box. “Yes?” she says, without looking up.
“I need a passport photo,” I say.
“Well you’ll have to wait,” she sighs, nodding at a chair in the corner. I look at myself in the mirror behind her. That face is not mine.”
Nat Newman (Australia)
Nat Newman is an Australian freelance writer, journalist and lover of beer. She enjoys writing about science, food security and public health. Her short fiction has appeared in several journals, and she has just completed her first full-length manuscript.
Read an excerpt from her story, The Death of Margaret Roe.
“Havilah Brown lived on the outskirts of town, blessed with an abundance of land and a paucity of dependents. He came in only irregular, only to get his regular supplies from Evan Owens’ grocery store, and on each occasion he would cross my threshold, maybe once, maybe twice, cross my door with his thick-soled boots and darken my floor with his shadow that stretched across the whole room. A big man always was Havilah Brown.”
Caroline Mackenzie (Trinidad and Tobago)
Caroline Mackenzie is a Trinidadian writer whose short stories have been published in literary journals and magazines around the world. A former national scholar, she speaks four languages and holds a Masters in technical translation from Imperial College London.
The Dying Wish is Caroline’s story.
“Agripina’s body had been decomposing for nearly a month before she realised anything was the matter with her. When her physician told her those very same words – “Jeeeesus Christ! Is nearly a month now you decomposing, girl!” – as she sat in a polka-dotted robe on his examining table, she simply didn’t know how to respond. Even though she was thirty-nine, and the dark waterfall of her hair was now streaked with silver, she still felt that she was in her prime.”
Tracy Fells (United Kingdom)
Tracy Fells lives close to the South Downs in England. After a career in Clinical Research, she now writes full-time, embracing her love of magical realism and folklore. Her short stories have been widely published and shortlisted for competitions such as Fish, Willesden Herald and the Brighton Prize.
“‘He is my son, I created him.’ Miss Bethan’s words fall softly, like a blessing.
Read an excerpt from The Naming of Moths.
Sofia leans closer to hear the old lady, her long black hair falling against Miss Bethan’s nightdress. A noise scratches from inside the pleated shade of the bedside lamp, where a moth has become trapped. She cups it quickly within her palms, ignoring the heat of the bulb.
‘Let me see,’ Adam calls out. He has been sitting at his mother’s bedside since midday, never once leaving her. His eyes shine. He wants to name the moth.”
Ingrid Persaud (Trinidad and Tobago)
Ingrid Persaud is a Trinidadian writer and artist who calls Barbados home. She came to writing and fine art having first pursued a successful legal career. Her creative work has been widely exhibited and her writing featured in several magazines. Her debut novel, If I Never Went Home (2014) was highly praised.
Read this excerpt from her short story, The Sweet Sop.
“If is chocolate you looking for, and I talking real cheap, then you can’t beat Golden MegaMart Variety & Wholesale Ltd in Marabella. Think of a Costco boil down small small but choke up with goods from top to bottom. When me and Moms had that holiday in Miami by her brother we were always in Costco. But until they open a Costco in Trinidad go by Golden MegaMart. They does treat people good. As soon as I reach they know I want at least thirty jars of Nutella chocolate spread. And don’t play like you giving me anything else.”
To see the full list of the Commonwealth 2017 Short Story Prize Shortlist, check the website.