For the first time, two short stories from three Malaysians have been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, one of the major short story writing competitions in the world.
Now in its eighth year, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from the Commonwealth.
The shortlist was chosen from 5,081 entries from 50 Commonwealth countries, and includes two translations into English, one from Greek and one from Malay.
Malay language story Pengap, written by Lokman Hakim and translated into English by Adriana Nordin Manan, and My Mother Pattu by Saras Manickam join the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story shortlist of 21 stories.
“It feels like it’s just too good to be true. Well, with over 5,000 submissions and each writer only able to send one short story, the chance to be shortlisted was a long shot. I didn’t expect this to happen. I just sent it my story and simply forgot about it,” says Lokman, 35.
Lokman is an author of several books, including novels, short story collections, and poetry.
He works as an infrastructure engineer for a construction company.
His short story Pengap (Stuffy), originally written in Malay, is a reflection of the concept of “stuffiness”, told by a character who refuses to migrate to a stuffy city.
Adriana, 35, the story’s translator, says she is thrilled because of the inclusion of Malaysian writers in this year’s competition.
“I think it’s wonderful and a boost for the local writing scene. For me, personally, it is an honour to have played my part,” she says.
Adriana, a writer, playwright, translator and researcher, is fluent in three languages – Malay, English and Spanish.
Saras says she is at a loss for words at being shortlisted.
“I’m just delighted. What do you say to things like this? I’m so honoured. I think there are stories all around us, and as writers, we have to stop and hear and listen,” says Saras, a freelance writer and teacher who won the DK Dutt Memorial Award for Literary Excellence in 2017.
Her story My Mother Pattu explores a mother’s violent jealousy and envy towards her daughter who finds no one can protect her from the abuse except herself.
Lokman, Saras and Adriana are nominated under the Asian region category of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
Also in the running here is Indian author Kiran Doshi, for his story Miss Coelho, English Teacher.
This year’s shortlist comprises 15 women and six men from 16 countries, including, for the first time, Tanzania, Zambia, Malaysia, Cyprus, and Barbados.
The youngest shortlisted author is 20 while the oldest is 80.
This year’s panel is chaired by British novelist, playwright and essayist Caryl Phillips (born in Saint Kitts and Nevis).
In the shortlist final round, the stories will be picked by an international panel of five judges, each from one of the Commonwealth regions (Asia, Africa, the Pacific, the Caribbean and Canada/Europe).
The judges will first select one winning short story from each Commonwealth region, the results of which will be known on May 9.
One winner will be selected and announced in a ceremony in Quebec, Canada on July 9.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner will win £5,000 (RM26,770), while the other regional winners receive £2,500 (RM13,385).