The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 54 member states.
Vincent Anioke from Nigeria talks to Naomi Meyer about his shortlisted story, Ogbuefi.
Congratulations on your short story, nominated for this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize! Please would you tell me what your story is about and what inspired you to write your story?
My story is about a Nigerian boy who must prove his manhood to his family and people via a traditional rite-of-passage ceremony.
My story is about a Nigerian boy who must prove his manhood to his family and people via a traditional rite-of-passage ceremony. Through a local setting, it explores one of many ways society defines and enforces its notions of masculinity, even at a young age, often to the point of toxicity.
It was possible to take part in this competition in other languages besides English (entries could be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, French, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil and Turkish). You wrote in English; do you think the language you speak at home was reflected in the English that you used? Speak to me about the language you used as the tool for your writing.
I wrote in English, but definitely peppered the story with titbits of Igbo, my native Nigerian language. This reflects my own environment growing up. My family spoke English, but we invariably interacted with Igbo-named items or used Igbo words in a handful of instances when such usage seemed most intuitive. Beyond that, the Ogbuefi ceremony highlighted in the story is deeply rooted in one of my tribe’s traditions, and, while conveyed in English, adds to that sense of culture and specific heritage I was hoping to create.
Beyond that, the Ogbuefi ceremony highlighted in the story is deeply rooted in one of my tribe’s traditions, and, while conveyed in English, adds to that sense of culture and specific heritage I was hoping to create.
What did this nomination mean to you, and what are your writing dreams for the future?
This nomination was surreal and wildly validating. I was convinced when I got the shortlist email that it was a rejection, until I read through it. I teared up. I feel more certain now that I am on the right track with my art, more motivated than ever to keep writing stories. I am halfway through my debut anthology, and I hope to share it with the world soon. Beyond that, I have plans for a second themed anthology and two novels. I hope to keep sharing Nigerian stories with a global reach.