Press release: Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2024 regional winners announced

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  • Five writers—chosen from a record-breaking 7,359 entrants—have been announced as regional winners of the world’s most global literature prize
  • Judges hail stories “with a punch that leaves you breathless”
  • Mauritian writer wins African regional prize for the first time
  • The stories carry readers from a small village in Trinidad to a lonely motel in New Zealand via northern Canada, Mumbai and Mauritius, with themes ranging from love and loss, troubled relationships with parents, and a woman’s love of tea. Two draw upon historical events, the 2023 wildfires in Canada, and the day electricity came to a remote village in Trinidad

The Commonwealth Foundation has announced five regional winners of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, the world’s most global literary prize.  This year’s prize attracted the highest-ever number of entrants, and the winners—53-year-old Julie Bouchard from Canada, 47-year-old Pip Robertson from New Zealand, 39-year-old Reena Usha Rungoo from Mauritius, 35-year-old Portia Subran from Trinidad and Tobago, and 26-year-old Sanjana Thakur from India—were all nominated for the first time.  They will go through to the final round of judging and the overall winner will be announced on 26 June 2024.

The stories address a wide range of themes—including love and loss, complex relationships with parents, and the joy of simple pleasures. Francophone writer Julie Bouchard”s story “What Burns” (“Ce Qui Brûle”) describes the devastating consequences of a catastrophic wildfire in Canada.  Pip Robertson’s “A River, Then the Road” is the story of a 12-year-old girl who has been abducted by her troubled father. Portia Subran’s “The Devil’s Son”, told in Trinidadian dialect, tells of a retired oil field worker, recollecting a dark incident that happened 60 years before. Reena Usha Rungoo’s “Dite” draws upon a Mauritian woman’s love of tea to explore memories of past relationships—and the colonial history of her favourite drink. Taking its name from the Bollywood actress, Sanjana Thakur’s “Aishwarya Rai” is an adoption story in reverse, as a young woman seeks out a possible mother from a shelter.

Congratulating the regional winners, Chair of the Judges Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi commented:

The short story form has neither the luxury of time nor the comfort of space. It is an impatient form; it does not dance around. The punch of a good short story leaves you breathless. As the judging panel, we enjoyed, sorrowed, celebrated and eventually agreed that these stories came up on top of the different regions.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 56 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, Maltese, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil, and Turkish. Such linguistic diversity in a short story prize in part reflects the richness of the Commonwealth, not least its many and varied literary traditions. This year, 414 entries were submitted in languages other than English.

The winning stories are:

  • Africa: “Dite” by Reena Usha Rungoo (Mauritius)
  • Asia: “Aishwarya Rai” by Sanjana Thakur (India)
  • Canada and Europe: “What Burns” by Julie Bouchard (Canada) (translated by Arielle Aaronson from the French, “Ce Qui Brûle”)
  • Caribbean: “The Devil”s Son” by Portia Subran (Trinidad and Tobago)
  • Pacific: “A River Then the Road” by Pip Robertson (New Zealand)

“Dite” by Reena Usha Rungoo (Mauritius)

“Dite”, which means “tea” in Creole, is an exploration of a Mauritian woman’s love of tea and of her ties to the drink’s colonial history. Each tea in her collection contains an olfactory memory in which her relationship with education, language, sex and other women is captured.

Usha Reena Rungoo is a Mauritian writer, scholar, teacher, speaker, and mother. As an islander, an African, and a diasporic South Asian, she uses the language of fiction (whether as a writer or a literary critic) to address how colonial violence infiltrates our beings, our languages and our desires, and on the creative ways in which we seek to resist this. She is an assistant professor of literature at Harvard University.


“Aishwarya Rai” by Sanjana Thakur (India)

The first mother is too clean; the second, too pretty. In her small Mumbai apartment with too-thin walls and a too-small balcony, Avni watches laundry turn round in her machine, dreams of white limousines, and tries out different mothers from the shelter. One of them must be just right.

Sanjana Thakur has a degree in English and Anthropology from Wellesley College and is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction at UT Austin’s New Writers Project. Her short story “Backstroke” was published in The Southampton Review. She is from Mumbai, India.

Canada and Europe

“What Burns” by Julie Bouchard (Canada) (translated by Arielle Aaronson from the French, “Ce Qui Brûle”)

Inspired by the 2023 wildfires in Canada, “What Burns” aims to be a narrative exploration, through flames, red bones and ashes, of the living forces that are consumed within and around us in this fiery 21st century.

Julie Bouchard, a Montreal native and resident, has released two collections of short stories and a novel over the last decade with La Pleine Lune, a Quebec-based publishing house. She was awarded the Radio-Canada Short Story Prize in both 2020 and 2021. She currently works in academic publishing.

About the translator: Arielle Aaroson translated “Ce qui brûle” from French into English. Her translations have been shortlisted for the 2023 Governor General’s Literary Award and longlisted for the 2021 Canada Reads book of the year. Arielle lives in Montreal, Quebec with her family.


“The Devil’s Son” by Portia Subran (Trinidad and Tobago)

A song jolts the memory of a retired oil field worker to a simpler time in Trinidad and Tobago and forces him to re-live a dark secret he kept buried for many years. “The Devil’s Son” is set in the 1950s, when the Promethean tool of electricity comes to the village of Chaguanas and pulls the population out of darkness and superstition.

Portia Subran is a writer and ink artist, from Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago. Her stories are inspired by her parents” tales of colonial and early post-colonial Trinidad, her experience, and Ole Talk gathered over the years. She is the winner of the 2019 Cecile de Jongh Literary Prize from the Caribbean Writer, and the 2016 Small Axe Literary Short Story Competition. She was a finalist for the 2022 BCLF Short Fiction Story Contest.


“A River Then the Road” by Pip Robertson (New Zealand)

A 12-year-old girl and her brother visit their troubled father for the weekend. Mistrust of her own body and a duty to protect her father from the consequences of his actions lead her into danger.

Pip Robertson has had short stories published in journals and anthologies in print and online. She has a Master of Arts from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. She lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa New Zealand, with her partner, daughter and dogs.

See also:

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2024: an interview with Olajide Omojarabi

Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2024: an interview with Jayne Bauling

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