The shortlist for the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, selected from over 6 600 submissions by the international judging panel, was announced recently.
Chair of the judges, Pakistani writer and translator Bilal Tanweer said, “On behalf of the jury, I am thrilled to reveal the shortlist for the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. This year’s shortlist is a concert of voices from across the Commonwealth, showcasing the richness of its writing traditions, histories and perspectives. These stories brim with the energy and urgency of the present moment – read them to experience the beat and pulse of contemporary storytelling.”
Naomi Meyer conducted interviews with the shortlisted authors from Africa. Below is an interview with Buke Abduba.
Hi there, and congratulations on being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Please tell me a bit about who you are and what you usually write.
My name is Buke Abduba. I currently live in Moyale, Kenya. I am the first of four girls in my family. I am a recent graduate of the Doctor of Pharmacy programme at the University of Karachi. I have always had a love for the arts, and literature has always been my favourite one. Writing has been the greatest form of escapism for me, especially when dealing with particularly heavy emotions. For the most part, there has been a lot of poetry, and my writing has just recently evolved into storytelling.
Could you tell me about your country and what you experience as story material in the country you are from – and why?
I have spent the better part of my life in Kenya, in Moyale. I am a second-generation Kenyan, and everyone in my community is of Ethiopian ancestry. This influences so much of my experience, because we have only recently started to establish our roots in Kenya. Generations before us have had to strive for better opportunities, better education and better livelihoods, and even now it is something we’re actively fighting for. Other than that, my community is plagued by war and various natural disasters, all of which impact my storytelling.
What is your story about – and what inspired you to write this specific story?
My story follows the protagonist and her costly pursuit of a better life. The inspiration behind Price Tags is mainly my mother. The principal theme of the story, this search for better, is a really important aspect of my own life because it is through my parents’ struggle that I get to experience all the good things they never did. The rest of the story draws from the women in my community, who in their own unique ways are or have been in pursuit of a better life.
Do you think stories can make a difference? Tell me about a story you have read that you still think about.
I believe stories make all the difference. They’re how we share our humanity and talk about things that may otherwise never be talked about. They’re bridges towards each other, towards better understanding of human experiences that we may not personally go through. They help us develop empathy towards each other in a way no other art form can, and it is through this connection that we as communities, families, people, grow towards better. I read To kill a mockingbird when I was younger, and it played a lot into how I would come to relate good and evil.
I believe stories make all the difference. They’re how we share our humanity and talk about things that may otherwise never be talked about. They’re bridges towards each other
What is the importance of being shortlisted for a prize like this? Also, do you think people read, or do they prefer listening to voice notes and stories, or looking at photos/Instagram?
Being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is not something I ever considered possible. Of course, there was the hope, but it was quite dim. This shortlisting is proof that we are not confined within the limits of the worlds we’re born in. I hope it shows my little sisters and every young child that exists within a small world that there is a bigger world to be experienced, and it will make room for us as long as we dream it and believe it and work ever so tirelessly to get to it.
I think there’s a fairly large number of people who prefer to listen to audios as well as engage in social media. That being said, people who read do so religiously and have huge communities even on social media.
- BukeAbdubawas born in1998 in Sololo and raised in Moyale, Kenya. An unpublished writer, Buke began writing in 2015, shortly after losing herfather to cancer.