- Gammon wins for ‘The Undertaker’s Apprentice”, the story of a group of children and their interactions with their small town’s sombre but kind mortician
- Judges praise ‘a carefully observed, patiently narrated, and exquisitely written story about youth and the ways in which we come to adulthood through experiencing loss and death’
- 20-year-old Gammon, who studies at the University of Stellenbosch is the youngest regional winner of the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
The Commonwealth Foundation has announced the regional winners of the world’s most global literary prize.
South African Hana Gammon has won the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Africa). The 20-year-old from Cape Town beat off strong competition from five other shortlisted writers: fellow South Africans Michael Boyd and Matshediso Radebe, as well as Kenyan writers Buke Abduba and Josiah Mbote, and H. B Asari from Nigeria. She will go through to the final round of judging and the overall winner will be announced on 27 June.
Gammon’s winning story, ‘The Undertaker’s Apprentice’, follows a group of children in a small town, relaying their interactions with their town's sombre but kind mortician. As the children grow up, they are forced to question issues of growth, decay, and exchange between different states of being.
Commenting on the background to the story, she says it was inspired ‘by my frequent thoughts about the process of life and its inevitable end. The topic of death – and of anything to do with change, decay, and liminality, really – is one that has been a source of much fascination and questioning for me my whole life…The story was also, in part, inspired by my research on funerary science and its history.’
Gammon adds, ‘There’s a lot about death that we don’t know and probably never will know as long as we’re on this side of the grave, but I do have faith that death can be as much of a beginning as it is an end… I hope that my story will be able to speak, in a soft but clear voice, to its readers, and that it might contribute in its own small way to how we embrace life, death, and change.’
The judge representing the African region, Namibian iter and photographer Rémy Ngamije, says, ‘“The Undertaker’s Apprentice” is a carefully observed, patiently narrated, and exquisitely written story about youth and the ways in which we come to adulthood through experiencing loss and death. There is, at its heart, a complex examination of the exchanges made between the living and the dead, the young and the old, and the experienced and the naive. Gammon's command of language is gentle but powerful and provides each reader with their own way of coming to terms with the fruits of its reading. ‘The Undertaker's Apprentice’, through its strangely refreshing narrative and poignant ruminations, shows the diversity of stories from the African continent; its selection as Africa Regional Winner is a testament to the richness of continental storytelling and the ability for stories to be both intensely personal and universal.’
The story was selected from a shortlist of 28 by an international judging panel chaired by Pakistani writer and translator Bilal Tanweer, representing the five regions of the Commonwealth. The regional judges are Rwandan-born writer, photographer and editor, Rémy Ngamije (Africa), Sri Lankan author and publisher Ameena Hussein (Asia), British-Canadian author Katrina Best (Canada and Europe), Saint Lucian poet and novelist Mac Donald Dixon (Caribbean), and New Zealand’s former Poet Laureate, Dr. Selina Tusitala Marsh (Pacific).