The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2023: an interview with Matshediso Radebe

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Matshediso Radebe (https://commonwealthfoundation.com/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The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 54 member states.

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 Matshediso Radebe.

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.

Thank you so much! My name is Matshediso Radebe, and I am a South African writer. My stories tend to be very character-based, and I place a lot of focus on who the characters are in relation to other people. So, the relationships they have and how this plays into how they move throughout the story essentially drive the plot.

Could you tell me about your country and what you experience as story material in the country you are from – and why?

I’m South African and although I try to stray from basing my stories on my actual life and people around me, I do find that certain details – especially sensory ones – are pulled from my experiences. In Falling from a knife tree, while I was panning out the feel of spending holidays with her mother’s family, I pulled from what I know holidays in a black South African family to be like. I also appreciate the diverse cultures and races in my country, and I’d like to think that this (to some extent) pours into my work.

What is your story about – and what inspired you to write this specific story?

The story follows the coming of age of a girl in scattered vignettes. It explores how she processes her father’s imprisonment and the experiences she has after moving to a new town with her mother and aunt. We also get to see her navigate relationships with family members from both sides after her parents get divorced. Like most of my stories, I think the inception of Falling from a knife tree was inspired mainly by an image that probably didn’t make it into the final draft. Though I always sensed that her parents’ divorce was meant to be a key element, the story was initially meant to be romantic, with a deep focus on the love story between the main character and her best friend, Celia. But, as I kept writing, I realised that centring it on family felt more natural to how the story was unfolding. Listening to “Family line” by Conan Gray also probably helped with finding the heart of the story.

Do you think stories can make a difference? Tell me about a story you have read that you still think about.

Yes, definitely. You might not end world hunger or solve half the world’s problems at the end of a 5 000-word manuscript, but you can tell a story that’ll make someone out there feel something (anything, really), and that matters a lot to me. Especially in a world where there always seems to be something to stress about, I feel that things that bring simple joys are very important. This is how I think about art in general, and short stories are no exception. I recently picked up the short story collection Joburg noir from my school library, and Mapule Mohulatsi’s story really stood out to me. I don’t remember the title, but if I’m not mistaken it was about a woman who had murdered her cheating husband and was now in a mental health institution. I just love how it was written. I really enjoyed her imagery and voices of the characters, as well as how the relationships were unpacked.

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?

As an upcoming writer, this means the world and beyond to me. I am so grateful that such a respected panel of judges coming from such diverse backgrounds agreed that I belong on the shortlist of this prestigious and inclusive short story prize. It’s definitely a confidence booster. I am also so very humbled to be in the company of writers who – by knowing Commonwealth’s standards – I truly believe are amazing at what they do. It’s all an insane honour. I think people tend to skew more towards photos and Instagram, because we are a very digital world flooded with short-form entertainment. However, social media like TikTok has also caused the culture of reading to surge, so I’d like to think that actual reading comes a close second behind photos/Instagram.

 

  • Matshediso Radebe is a South African fiction writer. Born in 2000Matshediso she enjoys writing character-based stories and troubled characters with interesting relationships and compelling dynamics drive her storytelling. Matshediso won the SA Writers College Short Story Competition in 2022. 

See also:

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2023: an interview with Buke Abduba

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2023: an interview with Josiah Mbote

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2023: an interview with Hana Gammon

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2023: an interview with HB Asari

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2023: an interview with Mike Boyd

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