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'Chinaman' Cops Commonwealth Book Prize 2012

Karunatilaka's Chinaman cops the CW Book Prize 2012


Sri Lanka’s Shehan Karunatilaka has copped the highly coveted 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize with Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew. The prize was announced by Nigerian Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck) during the Hay Festival in Wales on Friday, June 8, 2012.


Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, published by Vintage Publishing was described by Commonwealth Book Prize Chair, Margaret Busby, as a “fabulously enjoyable read”. Chinaman beat out Sweetheart (Alecia McKenzie, Jamaica), The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. Strauss (Jacquess Strauss, South Africa), Me and Mr. Booker (Cory Taylor, Australia), and The Town that Drowned (Riel Nason, Canada) for the prize.


In a statement published on the Commonwealth Writers website, Busby stated that Karuntilaka’s work has set a new standard for the competition. “Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew sets the standard high for the new Commonwealth Book Prize, which aims to discover new talent and energise literary output in the different regions,” she said. Karunatilaka, a graduate of Massey University (New Zealand) where he studied business and administration, was born in Galle, Sri Lanka. Karunatilaka’s writing career has spanned the gamut of advertising, rock music and travel.


The winner of the Commonwealth Short Story prize was also announced. This inaugural award was copped by New Zealand’s Emma Martin for her piece Two Girls in a Boat. Martin, a native of  Dunedin, New Zealand, completed an MA in Creative Writing at the Victoria University of Wellington in 2010. Martin is currently working on completing a collection of short stories. Her work, both short stories and essays have been anthologized and published in journals in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.


“The story was chosen for its gorgeous, elegant and spare writing; its nuanced handling of time, place and relationships; its daring, provocative subject matter and clear-eyed exploration of the choice of heterosexual conformity in the face of sexual mutability,” explained Bernadine Evaristo, chair of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.


The Commonwealth writing competitions were relaunched last year when the Commonwealth Foundation decided to shift focus entirely to emerging writers. Previously, the competition featured both a Book Prize and a First Book Prize. The revised programme is intended to provide a catalyst to stimulate writing and identify talented new voices.