Thu | Jun 8, 2023

Jamaica’s McPherson is Caribbean’s 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner

Published:Wednesday | May 17, 2023 | 1:23 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer
Kwame McPherson
Kwame McPherson

JAMAICAN WRITER Kwame McPherson has been named the Caribbean winner of the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

His piece, Ocoee, came out on top after being shortlisted in April. He was among 28 individuals – 10 men and 18 women – who were selected from a total of 6,642 entries.

McPherson’s Caribbean competitors included 2019 regional winner Alexia Tolas from The Bahamas, Cosmata Lindie from Guyana, Deborah Matthews from Trinidad and Tobago, and fellow Jamaican, 21-year-old Demoy Lindo.

He will go on to the final round of judging and the overall winner will be announced on 27 June.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is administered by the Commonwealth Foundation – an intergovernmental organisation. The prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2,000-5,000 words). Regional winners receive £2,500 (J$485, 400) and the overall winner receives £5,000 (J$970, 800).

African American history and Caribbean folklore are woven together in McPherson’s award-winning story Ocoee. It takes its name from a town in Florida where in November 1920, several African Americans were massacred in a horrific, racially motivated incident.


The narrative centres on a tired driver who is stopped by the police on a deserted road outside of Ocoee. He rediscovers a connection to his own past as he learns about the town’s awful past.

McPherson revealed in an April interview with The Gleaner that this was his fifth attempt at winning the prize.

The 57-year-old who was born in London, England, to Jamaican parents, stated in the April interview that everything in his environment served as an inspiration, thus he was constantly writing about various thematic concerns – a trait he realised from his days in primary school. He stated that writing was initially a hobby but that in his adult life, it later grew into his profession.

McPherson is a past student of Calabar High School, London Metropolitan University, and the University of Westminster.

He is the 2007 Poetic Soul winner and was the first Jamaican Flash Fiction Bursary Awardee for The Bridport Prize: International Creative Writing Competition in 2020.


He is also a recent and successful contributor to the UK-based Flame Tree Publishing diverse-writing anthologies and a contributor to The Heart of a Black Man anthology to be published in Los Angeles, which tells personal inspiring, uplifting and empowering stories from influential and powerful black men.

Other region winners include Himali McInnes from New Zealand, who writes short stories, essays, flash fiction and poetry, and has been published in various journals and anthologies; British author Rue Baldry; Hana Gammon, 20, from South Africa; and Agnes Chew, 34, from Singapore.

Their stories will be published online by the literary magazine Granta, ahead of the announcement of the overall winner.

“We’re thrilled to be publishing the regional winners of the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize at Granta. Year after year the prize has put a spotlight on extraordinary new talents working across the Commonwealth, and this cohort is one of exceptional promise and talent,” said Deputy Editor and Managing Director of Granta, Luke Neima .

As part of the Commonwealth Foundation’s partnership with The London Library, the overall winner receives a two-year full membership of the library, while the region winners receive one year.