Nigeria’s Innocent Chizaram Ilo is the regional winner for Africa of the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for their short story “When a Woman Renounces Motherhood.”

At 23, Ilo, who lives in Lagos, is the youngest-ever writer to be awarded the Africa region prize. We are thrilled for Innocent, whose writing we have published here and here.

A finalist for the Gerald Kraak Award and Short Story Day Africa Prize, their work have been published in Fireside Magazine, Overland, Strange Horizons, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores and Cast of Wonders and have won the Africa YMCA and Oxford Festival of the Arts short story contests.

Ilo follows Zambia’s Mbozi Haimbe who won the Africa region prize last year for her short story “Madam’s Sister.” They emerged winner in a shortlist that includes Caleb Ozovehe Ajinomoh, Ghanian Aba Asibon, South African Alboricah Tokologo Rathupetsane and ML Kejera from The Gambia.

The judging panel that selected Ilo’s work was chaired by Ghanaian writer Nii Ayikwei Parkes and five other judges representing the five regions of the Commonwealth: Mohale Mashigo for Africa, William Phuan for Asia, Heather O’Neill for Canada and Europe, Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw for Caribbean and Nic Low for Pacific.

Of Ilo’s win, Mohale Mashigo said: “‘When a Woman Renounces Motherhood’ is one of those stories that tell you something shocking and yet leave you with empathy for the characters in a story. The writing is so specific and intimate which makes you want to go back and read it again… and again.”

Nii Ayikwei Parkes further praised the story for its “particularly striking confidence switching between languages” and Ilo’s unapologetic use of interspersed, un-italicized Igbo and pidgin.

Reacting to their win, Ilo talks about sharing the good news with their mother:

I still can’t wrap my head around it. You know you always dream of this moment, how you’ll scream from the rooftops and rent your clothes. Then it comes by sudden and the only thing you can do is call your mother and cry over the phone about how proud your father would have been if he was alive. This means so much to me. I feel grateful, honored, proud and humbled, at the same time. This is one of those moments that make me look back at all the late nights and piles of rejection emails and say, “Maybe, just maybe, this writing thing is worth it.

Winning the regional prize comes with a £2,500 cash prize and publication in Granta.

The other regional winners are: “The Great Indian Tee and Snakes” by Kritika Pandey (Asia Region), “Wherever Mister Jensen Went” by Reyah Martin (Canada and Europe Region), “Mafootoo” by Brian S. Heap (Caribbean Region) and “The Art of Waving” by Andrea E. Macleod (Pacific Region).

The overall winner, who will be announced during a special online award ceremony at 1pm BST on 30 June 2020, will receive £5,000. Africa Region has had one previous overall winner. Jennifer Makumbi won in 2014 for her “Let’s Tell This Story Properly.” Ilo might just be the next.

Brittle Paper congratulates Innocent Chizaram Ilo.