Jamaica’s Diana McCaulay has been selected as one of the regional winners of the world’s most global literary prize.
McCaulay’s Bridge over the Yallahs River has been selected as the Caribbean’s top entry in the annual competition.
Bridge over the Yallahs River is about the impact 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.
McCaulay is a Jamaican environmental activist and writer. She has written five novels — Dog-Heart, Huracan, Gone to Drift, White Liver Gal, and Daylight Come.
She was the Caribbean regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2012 for The Dolphin Catchers. McCaulay is also on the editorial board of Pree, an online magazine for Caribbean writing.
She is among five short story writers from Eswatini, Fiji, Jamaica, Singapore and St Vincent and the Grenadines, ranging in age from 29 to 69.
They have been recognised for stories that tackle an ambitious range of themes including political upheaval, violence, and ordinary people’s struggle to survive against almost impossible odds.
The stories also tell of the compassion and unexpected friendships that can arise in the unlikeliest of places. Environmental catastrophe is a key theme in two of the winning stories, which range in genres between literary and historical fiction, speculative fiction and crime.
As the chair of the judges, Fred D’Aguiar, puts it, “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”.
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Short Story Prize, which is administered by the Commonwealth Foundation, is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 54-member states.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 international judging panel, chaired by Guyanese writer D’Aguiar, has chosen the five winning stories from a short list of 26. This year’s award saw a record number of 6,730 entries from 52 Commonwealth countries.
According to D’Aguiar, ‘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 imperilled planet.
“These stories fulfil a higher function as exemplars of the short story form: vibrant, memorable and indispensable.
The five regional winners’ stories will be published online by the literary magazine Granta, ahead of the announcement of the overall winner.
The 2022 overall winner will be announced in an online ceremony at 1 pm on Tuesday, June 21 and at a special event as part of the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Kigali, Rwanda.
The 2022 winning stories are:
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)
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