Diane McCaulay wins regional Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Diane McCaulay
Diane McCaulay

Jamaican writer Diana McCaulay has won the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Caribbean). She beat off strong competition from 2019 winner Alexia Tolas from the Bahamas and fellow Jamaican Sharma Taylor. She will go through to the final round of judging and the overall winner will be announced on June 21, a media release said.

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 release said.

The judge representing the Caribbean region, Trinidadian novelist Kevin Jared Hosein, says in the release, "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, said, "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, 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 panellists 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)

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.

Full list of regional winners:

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 June 21, and at a special event as part of the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Kigali, Rwanda.

For more info: follow @cwwriters on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit commonwealthwriters.org for updates.


"Diane McCaulay wins regional Commonwealth Short Story Prize"

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