Huge congratulations to Jamaican writer and environmentalist Diana McCaulay, who is the Caribbean winner for the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize – her second win (she first won ten years ago). The regional winners were announced on May 23 (London time). Diana’s strong competitors were fellow Jamaican Sharma Taylor and 2019 winner Alexia Tolas from the Bahamas.
This is the third consecutive year in which a Jamaican writer has won the Short Story Prize for the Caribbean region. Roland Watson-Grant won the 2021 Prize, and I interviewed him here for Global Voices. His story was another poignant tale of rural life and for Roland, also, it was his second win for the region. In 2020, dramatist, educator and writer Brian Heap won the prize.
It’s really a “double win” for the Caribbean. Cecil Browne, who hails from St Vincent and the Grenadines and is UK-based, won for Canada and Europe. It is also a “first” – the first time an author from St Vincent and the Grenadines has won the prize. Mr. Browne has lived in the UK since his teens. He has been a college lecturer in Maths for over 35 years and and he has just finished writing his debut novel.
The overall winner will be announced on June 21.
Here is more information and reaction from the Commonwealth Foundation:
McCaulay’s winning story, ‘Bridge over the Yallahs River’ is a story about the impacts of short term construction work by overseas crews on community life in Jamaica, illustrated by the wrenching choices a father must make between his ability to earn and his daughter’s health.
In a double hit for the Caribbean, a former maths teacher who moved to the UK from St Vincent and the Grenadines as a teenager, Cecil Browne, has won the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Canada and Europe) for his story ‘A Hat for Lemer’, set in 19th century St Vincent. The story revolves around a woman faced with a dilemma after Emancipation. Browne is the first author from St Vincent and the Grenadines to win a regional prize.
The judge representing the Caribbean region, Trinidadian novelist Kevin Jared Hosein, says, “‘Bridge over the Yallahs River’ is the story of a storm-struck bridge and the various people tasked to re-build it. It transports the reader to the small riverside village of Back To. Modern political powers have kept it in a sort of post-colonial Sisyphean stasis. The new bridge seems to be the catalyst for something hopeful. Long-needed repair. As the bridge progresses, the residents and the Chinese construction workers form an unconventional symbiotic bond – only for their actions at the end to announce that more than a physical bridge had been broken. A tale of simultaneous triumph and botchery; loss and reclamation; comedy and tragedy.“
Chair of the Judges, Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar comments, “This year’s regional winners offer a cornucopia of riches for readers globally from sources located around the world. These stories testify to the varied tones of fiction, from the oblique to the direct reference, with moments of character illumination to those associated with an imperiled planet. If a reader harboured any doubt about whether fiction is relevant to today’s world these stories answer with a riposte that resonates beyond a resounding “yes.” These stories fulfil a higher function as exemplars of the short story form: vibrant, memorable and indispensable.“
Speaking of the background to the story Diana McCaulay says “I have been an environmental activist for the past 30 years and did some work on the impacts of quarrying on communities near the Yallahs River in Jamaica.” Describing her win as “an absolute thrill”, she adds, “I wanted to write about the conflict I saw so frequently during my environmental life – the heavy costs of what we call ‘development’, who pays those costs, the painful choices people must make between their livelihoods and their lives and the many ways in which they fight back.”
The story was selected from a shortlist of 26 by an international judging panel chaired by Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar. The other panelists are Rwandan publisher Louise Umutoni-Bower (Africa), Indian short story writer and novelist Jahnavi Barua (Asia), Cypriot writer and academic Stephanos Stephanides (Canada and Europe), Trinidadian novelist and former winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize Kevin Jared Hosein (Caribbean), and Australian Wiradjuri writer, poet and academic Jeanine Leane (Pacific).
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize, which is administered by the Commonwealth Foundation, is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 54 Member States. It is the most accessible and international of all writing competitions: in addition to English, entries can be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, Creole, French, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil, and Turkish.
The full list of regional winners is as follows:
Africa: ‘and the earth drank deep’ by Ntsika Kota (Eswatini)
Asia: ‘The Last Diver on Earth’ by Sofia Mariah Ma (Singapore)
Canada and Europe: ‘A Hat for Lemer’ by Cecil Browne (United Kingdom/St Vincent and the Grenadines)
Caribbean: ‘Bridge over the Yallahs River’ by Diana McCaulay (Jamaica)
Pacific: ‘The Nightwatch’ by Mary Rokonadravu (Fiji)
The five regional winners’ stories will be published online by the literary magazine Granta, ahead of the announcement of the overall winner.
Granta’s Managing Director and Deputy Editor Luke Neima says, “The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is a leading light in the discovery and promotion of literary excellence from across the world, providing a forum for aspiring talent that, year after year, showcases stories of singular depth and range. The stories that have been selected for this year’s shortlist delight, surprise, and bring vividly to life the cultural richness and diversity of the Commonwealth. It is a great pleasure to be able to feature the regional winners once again on Granta.com.“
The 2022 overall winner will be announced in an online ceremony on 1pm, Tuesday 21 June, and at a special event as part of the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Kigali, Rwanda.
Notes to Editors
Diana McCaulay is a Jamaican environmental activist and writer. She has written five novels—Dog-Heart, Huracan(Peepal Tree Press), Gone to Drift (Papillote Press and HarperCollins), White Liver Gal (self-published) and Daylight Come (Peepal Tree Press). She was the Caribbean regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2012, for ‘The Dolphin Catchers’. She is also on the editorial board of Pree, an online magazine for Caribbean writing.
Kevin Jared Hosein is an award-winning writer from Trinidad and Tobago. He was named overall winner of the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for his story, Passage, and was the Caribbean regional winner in 2015. He has published three books: The Repenters (longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award), The Beast of Kukuyo (second-place winner of the 2017 CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature) and Littletown Secrets. His writings have been published in numerous anthologies and outlets including Lightspeed Magazine, Moko and adda. His next novel, Devotion*, is being published by Bloomsbury (UK/Commonwealth) and Ecco (USA/Canada) in 2022.
About the Commonwealth Short Story Prize
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is administered by the Commonwealth Foundation. The prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2000-5000 words). Regional winners receive £2,500 GBP and the overall winner receives £5,000 GBP. Short stories translated into English from other languages are also eligible.
About the Commonwealth Foundation
The Commonwealth Foundation is an intergovernmental organisation established by Member States of the Commonwealth. The Foundation works to support civil society engagement in shaping the policies and decisions that affect people’s lives. Its cultural programming is founded on the belief that well-told stories can help people make sense of events and take action to bring about change. The Foundation works with local and international partners to identify and deliver a wide range of cultural projects and platforms, including adda, an online magazine of new writing.