Continuing his incredible streak of history-making triumphs, the eSwatini author Ntsika Kota has emerged overall winner of the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for his short story ‘and the earth drank deep.’ [Read and the earth drank deep]
The 29-year old author was named winner at online ceremony which featured him and fellow regional winners reading excerpts from their stories. He will receive a cash award of £5,000.
We cannot praise Kota’s win enough. This is only the second time in history an African regional winner is clinching the overall prize — the first being the great Jennifer Makumbi nearly a decade ago. It is a stunning feat for Kota, a chemist-turned-writer, whose representation was pioneering right from the shortlist, to Africa region win, and now this. It’s safe to say he has put eSwatini literature on a global map. It is our hope that this win will attract the deserving attention to writers from the country.
It is equally worthy to note that Kota wins the overall prize in a year that saw a record number of entries — 6,730 in total — while hailing from one of the smallest countries in the commonwealth. He was up against fellow regional winners: Asia winner Sofia Mariah Ma (Singapore); Canada and Europe winner Cecil Browne (United Kingdom/St Vincent and the Grenadines); Caribbean winner Diana McCaulay (Jamaica); and Pacific winner Mary Rokonadravu (Fiji).
Kota’s winning story is a folkloric narrative set in a hunter-gatherer community and “centers around a group of villagers as they confront threats from wild animals, possible disease, and unexpected death.” Rwandan publisher Louise Umutoni-Bower, who was the judge representing Africa region, praised it as a story that ‘uses African folktale in a way that remains true to form but is also accessible.’
The Chair of the Judges, Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar called the story “an instant classic.” He was equally full of praises for Kota’s simple, cleverly-restrained and allegorical style:
The deceitfully simple and straightforward style rubs against an artful orchestration of tension. The writer controls elements of character and plot to captivate the most skeptical of readers. The reader inherits a host of hot topics for discussion at the end of the story all of which shine back at the reader’s world. Like the best parables the result is an interplay between story and reality, invention and the quotidian, the writer’s imagination and the world of the reader.’
Kota expressed meaningful delighted shock at his win:
There are not many literature prizes more global in scale or inclusive in scope than the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. I submitted my story more out of pride than expectation. I was aware of the calibre of writing and adjudication so I was under no illusions about my chances. However, against all odds, my story was shortlisted. It was just the endorsement I had hoped for. It meant that the pride I felt in what I had put to page was justified. It was everything I had hoped for. I expected no more. Although, that being said, I couldn’t help but daydream about winning the Prize. I never let myself actually hope to win, though, let alone expect to. After all, that would be ridiculous! A rank amateur? In such distinguished company? Fantasise if you will, I told myself, but for goodness sake, be realistic. Imagine my surprise, then, when I got that call.
We have no doubts in our mind that it can only go uphill from here. Winners of the Commonwealth Prize have traditionally gone on to have defining careers. Last year’s winner, Kanya D’Almeida signed with an agent, has almost completed her debut short story collection, and won the ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award 2022 this year. After winning the prize in 2020, Kritika Pandey signed with an agent, is currently working on the final edits of her first novel, has had short-form works come out in the Kenyon Review and on BBC Radio 4 as well as teaching creative writing workshops with the Himalayan Writing Retreat and Writing Workshops Dallas. After receiving multiple literary agency offers, 2018 winner Kevin Jared Hosein signed with Aitken Alexander Associates and his new novel is a major lead title to be released in 2023 under the title Adoration in UK/Commonwealth (Bloomsbury), and Hungry Ghosts in North America (Ecco).
Brittle Paper congratulates Ntsika Kota!