Call for entries: Commonwealth Book Prize and Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Commonwealth Writers – a world of new fiction

The Commonwealth Foundation made the call for entries for the new Commonwealth Book Prize and Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The prizes are part of a new initiative, Commonwealth Writers, an online hub to inspire, inform and create a community of writers from all over the world. Together with the prizes, Commonwealth Writers unearths, develops and promotes the best new fiction from across the Commonwealth.

Awarded for best first book, the Commonwealth Book Prize is open to writers who have had their first novel (full length work of fiction) published between 1 January and 31 December 2011. Regional winners receive £2,500 and the overall winner receives £10,000. The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2000-5000 words). Regional winners receive £1,000 and the overall winner receives £5,000. The winners will be announced in June 2012.

Chair of the Commonwealth Book Prize, Margaret Busby said “The significance of a prize such as this becomes greater with each year. It is vital to encourage and celebrate the talent of newly emerging novelists whose words have the potential to inspire and enrich the entire literary world. Searching out and promoting the best first books of fiction internationally is a serious task, a great honour and a wonderful challenge.”

Chair of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, Bernardine Evaristo said “This wonderful prize will turn the spotlight on the increasingly popular short story form and aims to support and encourage short story writers worldwide.”

As one of the Commonwealth Foundation’s culture programmes, Commonwealth Writers works in partnership with international literary organisations, the wider cultural industries and civil society to help writers develop their craft. Commonwealth Writers is a forum where members can debate the future of publishing, get advice from established authors and ask questions of our writer in residence.

Commonwealth Foundation Director, Danny Sriskandarajah said “As one of the Commonwealth Foundation’s flagship projects, I’m delighted that we’re putting the prizes firmly on the contemporary map of new writing and launching a dedicated Commonwealth Writers website to extend our global reach.”

Full rules and entry and eligibility information is available at

Closing date for entries:
Commonwealth Book Prize is Friday 9 December 2011 (5pm GMT)
Commonwealth Short Story Prize is Wednesday 30 November 2011 (5pm GMT)

Commonwealth Foundation Restructures Book Prize and Short Story Prize, Rolls out new Guidelines

The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize was twenty-five years old this year and the Commonwealth Short Story competition has remained largely unchanged since 1996. In order to bring these two prestigious awards into the 21st Century, the organisation is modernising and re-launching both prizes, as part of the Foundation’s cultural programme, under the new banner of Commonwealth Writers – A World of New Fiction at

Commonwealth Writers will include a new website, on-the-ground creative writing activities within regional communities, increased prize money, and the publication of an anthology of the winning short stories.

Commonwealth Writers aims to unearth, promote and connect new writing talent across the fifty-four countries of the Commonwealth. It will do this in two ways:

We’ve preserved the strongest elements of the Commonwealth Foundation’s existing prizes, while at the same time putting them on the contemporary map of international new fiction:

Commonwealth Book Prize
Awarded for best first book, this prize is open to writers who have had their first novel (full length work of fiction) published between 1 January and 31 December 2011. Regional winners receive £2,500 and the overall winner receives £10,000.

N.B. there will no longer be a Best Book award.

Commonwealth Short Story Prize
Awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2,000 – 5,000 words). Regional winners receive £1,000 and the overall winner receives £5,000.

For each prize we award four regional winners and one overall winner. The regions are Africa; Asia; Canada and Europe; Caribbean; and the Pacific. Both prizes are open to Commonwealth citizens aged 18 or over.

Rules and eligibility information for both prizes, as well as the online entry forms, will be available at from 18 October 2011. The closing date for entries for the Commonwealth Book Prize is 9 December 2011 with last receipt of books by post no later than 16 December; and the closing date for entries for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is 30 November 2011.

Commonwealth Writers is on the lookout for fresh, new, talented writers from all parts of the Commonwealth. It aims to unearth those writers with talent, an original voice, and stories to tell. We’ll be working in partnership with international writers’ organisations, the wider cultural industries, and civil society to help new writers develop their craft.

The prizes and outreach activities act as catalysts to target and identify talented writers from different regions who will go on to inspire and inform their local communities. Meanwhile, will be an online hub to inspire, inform and motivate distinctive new voices – go there now to register your interest in Commonwealth Writers, and don’t forget to join us on Facebook by clicking the like button below.

New Writer triumphs in Commonwealth Short Story Competition: Philip Nash wins 2011 Prize

Phil Nash (UK)

Philip Nash’s Rejoinder has today been announced as the winning entry in the 2011 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. UK-based Nash has taken inspiration from the coastlines of Kent where he grew up, and the seaside towns in southern England. His carefully crafted story reflects on this beauty with a sense of deep loss.

The chair of this year’s judging panel, Nicholas Laughlin, describes why Rejoinder stood out:

“With confident economy, but without feeling hurried or curtailed, Rejoinder tells the stories of not one but two romantic relationships that end abruptly and unhappily. This piece seems to encompass decades of emotional history in little more than a page, a remarkably difficult task for any writer.”

Funded and managed by the Commonwealth Foundation, in partnership with the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association [CBA], the Commonwealth Short Story Competition is an annual scheme to promote and inspire new creative writing for radio. The competition aims to be a catalyst for the winners as new writers as Philip Nash demonstrates:

“Winning the Commonwealth Short Story Competition has boosted my confidence no end. I hope to be able to build on this success, and see more of my work in print.”

The special prize for a story on this year’s Commonwealth theme, Women as Agents of Change, was awarded to Indian writer, Lavanya Arvind, with her inspiring story of a woman starting a family business. The Story for Children special prize was awarded to Jamaican children’s author Diane Browne.

The regional winning entries were:

  • Martha by Basett Buyukah, Kenya
  • The Maoist by Nikesh Murali, India
  • Head not make for hat alone by Barbara Jenkins, Trinidad and Tobago
  • Ginger Beer by Sarah Bainbridge, New Zealand

There are 19 further highly commended entries (see website for a full list).

The winning stories introduce us to a wealth of intriguing characters as the stories unfold. The listener is welcomed on board a rollercoaster ride of often poignant tales offering snapshots of life around the Commonwealth.

A panel of international judges made the choices from over 2000 entries. The 2011 panel comprised New Zealand writer and reviewer Jolisa Gracewood; Nicholas Laughlin, Editor of The Caribbean Review of Books, and a former judge of the Commonwealth Foundation’s Commonwealth Writers’ Prize; Nigerian author and 2009 Commonwealth Short Story regional winner, Kachi Ozumba; Frances Fortune, Director, Search for the Common Ground, Africa; and Sri Lankan television producer and editor Sharmini Boyle.

All 26 stories are available on a CD (contact the Commonwealth Foundation below) which will be broadcast widely around the Commonwealth. The stories are read by some of the finest readers for radio working in the United Kingdom such as the distinguished actors Nikki Amuka-Bird, Maynard Eziashi and Penny Downie as well as the accomplished actor and playwright Sudha Bhuchar.

8 Questions for E.C. Osondu, 2009 Caine Prize Winner & Author, Voice of America

Nigerian writer and 2009 Caine Prize Winner, E.C. Osondu is well-known for his short stories, which have been published in AGNI, Guernica, Vice, Fiction, and The Atlantic. He was in Lagos and Port Harcourt last month for a series of book reading events for his debut offering, Voice of America, a collection of short stories shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book (Africa region) and recently published by Kachifo Limited, publisher of Farafina Books in Nigeria. Voice of America is set in Nigeria and America. The plots move from boys and girls in villages and refugee camps to the disillusionment and confusion of young married couples living in America, and back to bustling Lagos. In this very straight-to-the-point exchange, the 2011 Pushcart Prize Winner shares with BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu about his new book and inspiration for writing.

When did you consciously begin to write fiction, and which writers and books had vital, early influences on your writing?
I’ll have to say I began reading fiction many, many years before I ever tried my hands at writing it. And the first thing I wrote wasn’t even fiction, it was poetry. I think I read lots of books growing up. King Solomon’s Mines, Montezuma’s Daughter, Little Women, Chike and the River, An African Nights Entertainment, etc. As you can see from the list, these were books with a strong sense of narrative. Narrative is of course central to my own writing.

Why did you leave your advertising job in Lagos to focus fully on creative writing? What factors helped you make that decision?
Even while in advertising I was still double-dipping so to speak. I was very active in the Association of Nigerian Authors and served as Vice-Chairperson of the Lagos chapter under Kunle Adebajo. I was also writing and publishing. But I think if there was one single factor it must have been the internet. I began to read the works of our own writers and many other writers online. I also began to read about creative writing programs. So you can blame the internet.

What positive habits and lessons did you bring along from writing ‘copy’ into your new endeavour?
You must grip the reader by the scruff of the neck, get their attention. Nobody is going to park their car in order to read your billboard. Even the best creative work can be killed by poor presentation. Criticism is hard to take, but learn to accept it if need be or just grin and bear it. More importantly have fun with your writing. Not necessarily in that order, though.

In the short story, Nigerians in America, the narrator’s dad suddenly turns towards her to tell her, “You have picked up enough wisdom for one night – you had better go to your bed”. How much of your childhood experiences do you infuse into your stories?
Not so much. But growing up I was always fascinated by the way people talked, their inflections, verbal tics and speech mannerisms. I recall that we gave adults nicknames based on their speech mannerisms- a favorite visitor to the house was nicknamed-You don’t mean it-because that was his stock response to every statement or question e.g. “Our daddy is not home.” – You don’t mean it, “I was first in my class” –You don’t mean it, etc.

Voice of America was a great read for me, and I never used the dictionary for once throughout the collection. Was the simple language deliberate and how were you able to achieve that?
It was deliberate. I think complex ideas can be expressed simply.

In VOA, you mostly write from a female’s point of view, whilst largely taking a swipe at the male characters. How much of a feminist is E.C. Osondu?
I am very much one. I think it makes us more deeply human. Living in the U.S. has made me more aware of the need to take the side of those that society offers limited choices either because of their race, gender, ability or disability etc.

After receiving the Caine Prize in 2009, you said Africa was yet to have a master of short stories. How close are we? How close do you think you are to becoming one?
Not there yet, but hoping and working at it nonetheless without despairing.

Where should we be hoping to see E.C. Osondu in the next five years?
I’ll continue to write. A novel and hopefully a book of creative non-fiction.

Thanks for your time!

Photo credit: Victor Ekpuk (;

This interview was first published on