Ugandan writer claims Short Story Prize

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Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi from Uganda has been awarded the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her short story ‘Let’s Tell This Story Properly’.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize was presented to Makumbi, the regional winner from Africa, in an awards ceremony in Kampala, Uganda, on 13 June by novelist and short story writer Romesh Gunesekera.

Chair of the international judging panel, which contains a judge from each of the five regions of the Commonwealth, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey praised the winning stories from each region, saying that the shortlisted stories “boasted craft, intelligence and ambition” and that “choosing one overall winner felt an impossible task”.

The judges chose Makumbi’s short story for its risk taking, grace and breadth. Allfrey noted that, while the choice was difficult, Makumbi’s story “draws on a powerful national heritage of dramatic storytelling and significantly expanded our understanding of the possibilities of the short story form”.

Makumbi’s winning story follows a grieving widow who arrives at Entebbe Airport from Manchester with her husband’s coffin to a dramatic turn of events, which leads her to surrender her widowhood and fight for what is hers.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize aims to identify unique talent from across the 53 countries of the Commonwealth. Emma D’Souza, who manages the prize, told Global that Commonwealth Writers is “always looking for new and emerging voices”, and hoping to discover talented individuals who are unknown on the international platform.

The Short Story Prize helps to assure just this by creating an accessible platform for writers from across the Commonwealth, allowing unknown talent to emerge from regions where there is little or no publishing infrastructure.

The competition received unprecedented attention this year, with unpublished stories entered by nearly 4,000 writers from the five Commonwealth regions, almost double the numbers of 2013.

Commonwealth Writers made the decision to host the awards as part of larger-scale Commonwealth Writers initiatives in Uganda in June, which included two workshops and the Commonwealth Writers’ conversation ‘South to South? Visions of Sustainable development for the Creative Imagination’. In previous years, the Short Story Prize winners’ ceremony has been held at the Hay Festival in Wales. It was, therefore, a break with tradition for the winner to be able to receive the prize at home.

Speaking of what the prize will mean to other writers in Uganda, Emma D’Souza told Global she saw the victory as “hugely inspirational”, adding: “All too often the literature on the continent is dominated by Nigerian and South African writers. Everybody was very excited to have a Ugandan winner, everybody feels like their time has come.”

Noticeably overwhelmed at having won the overall prize, Makumbi echoed these sentiments: “This is a dream. For Uganda, once described as a literary desert, it shows how the country’s literary landscape is changing and I am proud to be a part of it. The Commonwealth Short Story Prize will help bring attention to Ugandan writing at a global level.”

Commonwealth Writers has partnered with Granta magazine, which will publish Makumbi’s story online.


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