Fri | Aug 12, 2022

Global first as young Eswatini writer wins 2022 C’wealth Short Story Prize

Published:Monday | June 27, 2022 | 12:05 AM

Twenty-nine-year-old Ntsika Kota has been announced as the overall winner of the world’s most global literature prize. In another record year for entries, Kota beat off competition from 6,729 entrants worldwide to take the £5,000 prize.

The Commonwealth Foundation announced Kota’s win in an online ceremony in which he and the four regional winners read extracts from their stories. He was presented with the award by performance poet Mr Gee.

Kota is the first writer from Eswatini to win the prize. He is also the first writer from that country to be shortlisted.

Kota’s winning story, ‘and the earth drank deep’, centres around a group of villagers in a hunter-gatherer society set in the “distant past of our species”. As they encounter threats from wild animals, disease, and unexpected death, the story tells of a day when “cold blood flowed for the first time, and the earth drank deep”. Some aspects of the social hierarchy of the village were very loosely based upon Nguni cultures from Southern Africa, Kota says, but the society he depicts is imaginary.

The judge representing the African region, Rwandan publisher Louise Umutoni-Bower, praised it as a story that “uses African folktale in a way that remains true to form but is also accessible. It is a reminder of a time when storytelling had a prized place in social gatherings”.

‘This year’s winner is an instant classic: a linear narrative in the tradition of the realist short story. The events unfold around a central ethical conceit with tension that accumulates, and a surprise ending leaves the reader with many questions and in a state of provocation,” chair of the judges, Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar, said.

“The deceitfully simple and straightforward style rubs against an artful orchestration of tension.”

Born in Mbabane, Eswatini, Ntsika Kota is a chemist by training. A self-taught writer, he was originally inspired by a high school writing assignment. Kota’s work is a reflection of his thoughts and feelings, and he enjoys creating that reflection.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is free to enter and is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from the Commonwealth. It is the only prize in the world where entries can be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, Creole, French, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil, and Turkish as well as English.

The 2022 prize was judged by an international panel of writers, each representing one of the five regions of the Commonwealth.

Jamaica’s Diana McCaulay was the Caribbean winner for Bridge over the Yallahs River.

Other winners were Singapore’s Sofia Mariah Ma (Asia); British-Vincentian Cecil Browne (Canada and Europe winner); and Fiji’s Mary Rokonadravu (Pacific). Overall, there were 6,730 entries from 52 Commonwealth countries.

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

The literary magazine Granta has published all of the regional winning stories of the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, including ‘and the earth drank deep’.