The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2022: an interview with Charlie Muhumuza

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Charlie Muhumuza (picture: https://commonwealthfoundation.com/commonwealth-short-story-prize/)

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 54 member states. 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, 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. In 2022, 408 entries were in languages other than English. The stories on the 2022 shortlist were selected from a total of 6 730 entries from 52 Commonwealth countries.

Naomi Meyer conducted interviews with the shortlisted authors from Africa. Below is an interview with Charlie Muhumuza.

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?

Thank you. The story is titled How to operate the new eco-protect five-in-one climate-control apparatus and is about an AI appliance which, although essential in helping combat the effects of climate change for its clients, also extorts and blackmails them. I wrote it during the pandemic during the time of climate discourse, so I was thinking about where we shall end up as a planet if nothing changes. But with faith in humanity, I believe there will be fighters.

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I wrote it during the pandemic during the time of climate discourse, so I was thinking about where we shall end up as a planet if nothing changes. But with faith in humanity, I believe there will be fighters.
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It was possible to take part in this competition in languages other than English. Tell me about the language you used for your entry. Did you write in your home language? If 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 tool for your writing.

There is so much beauty and novelty in the stories in these languages; it’s amazing that these entries are possible.

I did not use my home language, Rukiga. For this story, given that I was writing from the point of view of a multinational corporation’s machine, English was the natural language to use. However, since I wanted to root it at home, Uganda, I used Luganda names for the different characters. I hoped to create a sense of intrusion and conflict through the AI’s use of the English language in a home with Luganda names.

What did this nomination mean to you, and what are your writing dreams for the future?

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From when I started writing short stories, this list was something I looked up to. I was ecstatic. Grateful. The writers, especially the African ones, who have been on the shortlist, like Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and Akwaeke Emezi, are some of my favourite writers right now.
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From when I started writing short stories, this list was something I looked up to. I was ecstatic. Grateful. The writers, especially the African ones, who have been on the shortlist, like Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and Akwaeke Emezi, are some of my favourite writers right now. Being where they have been assures me that I’m on the right path. I hope that, like them, I can tell stories that are true to me and can inspire one person out there. I’m currently putting together a short story collection and have plans for a novel as well.

Also read:

Press release: 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize regional winners announced

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2021: an interview with Moso Sematlane from Lesotho

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2021: an interview with Rémy Ngamije from Namibia

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2021: an interview with Ola W Halim from Nigeria

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2021: an interview with Franklyn Usouwa from Nigeria

Press release – 2022 Commonwealth short story prize: shortlist announced

 

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