The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 54 member states.
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.”
See the shortlist of this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
Naomi Meyer conducted interviews with the shortlisted authors from Africa. Below is an interview with Hana Gammon.
Hi there, and congratulations for being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Please tell me a bit about who you are and what you usually write.
Thank you! My name’s Hana Gammon, and I’m an emerging South African writer with an interest in creating stories and poetry influenced by dark and Gothic themes. I like to bring together the comforting and the frightening in my writing to encourage the reader to see the familiar in the uncanny and the uncanny in the familiar.
I like to bring together the comforting and the frightening in my writing to encourage the reader to see the familiar in the uncanny and the uncanny in the familiar.
I’m currently in my third year studying toward a BA in Language and Culture at Stellenbosch University. Apart from writing, I also enjoy drawing, sewing historically inspired clothing and collecting various oddities.
Could you tell me about your country and what you experience as story material in the country you are from – and why?
South Africa is a country of many rich cultures with storytelling traditions spanning back centuries. When you are surrounded by such a diversity of influences, it really allows your mind to gain a broader view of the world. Apart from appreciating South Africa’s rich literary canon, which includes the works of Olive Schreiner, Sol Plaatje and JM Coetzee, I am very much inspired by the sublimity of our natural landscapes. It may sound a little clichéd, but I find a lot of inspiration in wandering the mountains, forests and beaches. Cape Town’s winter weather is especially beautiful to me – there’s a reason it used to be called the Cape of Storms.
What is your story about – and what inspired you to write this specific story?
“The undertaker’s apprentice” is a story about the ever-changing nature of existence, and how things can be both lost and gained through inhabiting such a world in such a way. The main characters in this story are a group of morbidly curious children growing up in a small town on the edge of a forest, and their interactions with the titular undertaker and his apprentice. It’s a little macabre, but I’ve always been fascinated by the topic of death and everything related to it, as is evident in a lot of my work. The story was in part inspired by my research on the funerary industry last year, as that was a career path I was considering taking.
It’s a little macabre, but I’ve always been fascinated by the topic of death and everything related to it, as is evident in a lot of my work. The story was in part inspired by my research on the funerary industry last year, as that was a career path I was considering taking.
Do you think stories can make a difference? Tell me about a story you have read that you still think about.
Yes, I think that stories can definitely make a difference in how we see and interact with the world and with each other. About a year ago, I read Franz Kafka’s Die Verwandlung for the first time – the original text side by side with an English translation, to practise my German. I think some part of that story has been living in some corner of my brain ever since. I don’t really know how to explain it. I started using a lot more insect symbolism in my writing after that, so it’s definitely a story that influenced me a lot.
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?
I’m incredibly excited to be shortlisted for this prize, because it means so much to me for my career as a writer who’s still emerging. It gives me an opportunity to introduce myself to a much larger international audience.
I do think that there are still many people who read books nowadays, although others prefer an audio format, and others are more interested in different forms of communication, like social media. In my opinion, the rise of technology in the last few decades has helped make stories more accessible, for example, through e-books, audiobooks and also online communities that allow readers and writers to connect with each other.
- Hana Gammon was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2002, and has had a love for writing ever since she could first pick up a pen. She is currently studying for a BA in Language and Culture at Stellenbosch University, South Africa.
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