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Jamaica Cops Commonwealth Regional Prizes

Alecia McKenzie

Jamaica copped both regional prizes in the 2012 Commonwealth writing competitions: the Commonwealth Book Prize - snagged by Alecia McKenzie for her novel Sweetheart, and the Commonwealth Short story prize - earned by Diana McCaulay for her piece ‘The Dolphin Catcher’. Commonwealth Writers announced the regional winners earlier this week.

“I feel honoured and humbled that Sweetheart has won the Commonwealth Book Prize for the Caribbean region” McKenzie said via the CW Writers website. “Sweetheart was born of love and grief, and winning this award feels like an affirmation of art, affection, family ties, friendship and individuality.” It is McKenzie second time around as a regional winner in the Commonwealth writing competition. Her first collection of short stories, Satellite City, earned the regional prize for Best First Book. McKenzie was the sole nominee for the Caribbean for the 2012 CW Book Prize. Her other works include Stories from Yard,  the novella for young readers When the Rain Stopped in Natland, and Doctor’s Orders.

Other regional prize winners for the 2012 CW Book Prize are Jacquess Strauss (South Africa) for the Johanthan Cape published novel The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. Strauss described himself as “gobsmacked” by the win. Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Matthew earned Shehan Karunatilaka (India) the prize for Asia. Karunatilaka expressed both surprise and gratitude at the win. “When I wrote Chinaman I didn’t expect anyone outside of Colombo to get it,” he said. “So I wrote it as if I was speaking to one person, someone who didn’t live that far from where I was sitting. It’s been a crazy ride watching the book pick up fans across Asia, Africa and Europe.”

Cory Taylor of Australia earned the regional prize for the Pacific with Me and Mr. Booker, published by The Text Publishing Company. She noted that the kind of recognition earned by the win is exciting for any writer, and marveled at the sense of community that the competition provided. “It gives me a special sense of connection to new writers from all over the world. Somehow the imperative to tell stories seems less isolating and more like a communal undertaking,” she said. Riel Nason of Canada won the UK and Canada regional prize with The Town that Drowned. She too expressed great excitement and described the win as a wonderful experience. “I am absolutely beyond thrilled and honoured that The Town That Drowned was chosen as the regional winner for Canada and Europe,” she said.

Diana McCaulayThe regional winners of the short story competition were no less excited by their win. “I’m thrilled,” McCaulay said. It’s an honour to be in the company of such wonderful writers and I’m grateful to the Commonwealth Foundation for continuing to encourage and showcase emerging and established writers from all over the world.“ McCaulay’s first novel, Dog-Heart was published by Peepal Tree Press in 2010 and her second novel, Huracan, is set to be released later this year.

Nigerian Jekwu Anyaegbuna earned the regional prize for Africa for the story ‘Morrison Okoli (1955 -2010)’. He described the prize as a great launching pad for further success. “I am immensely thrilled to have won for Africa. I strongly believe this prize will provide me with the hoes and shovels to serve my motherland, Africa, affording me the strength and opportunity to plough through the thick literary farmland across the world,” he said.

Anushka Jasraj of India copped the regional prize for Asia with ‘Radio Story’. “This is an incredible and overwhelming honour – as a writer,” Jasraj said. “I couldn’t ask for more than to have someone read and appreciate my work.” The regional prize for the Pacific was earned by New Zealand’s Emma Martin ‘Two Girls in a Boat’ while Andrea Mullaney (Scotland) won the regional prize for the UK and Canada. Martin described the win as “incredibly exciting”. “To think about how the five of us, knowing nothing of the others, simultaneously worked away at our stories, writing and rewriting, doubting and hoping, and now find ourselves recognised together through this prize,” she said. “I can’t wait to read the other winning stories, and am proud to have mine amongst them.”

Mullaney also reiterated the value of the Commonwealth writing prize for bringing attention to emerging writers and hopefully helping them to bridge the gap to becoming established novelists. Mullaney explained that she is already transforming her short story into a novel. “Winning this prize means a great deal to me, especially as it’s from an organisation which celebrates diversity and coming together across cultures – one of the themes of my story,” she said. “It’s a fantastic encouragement to keep going and I hope it will help me bring the book to publication for everyone to read.”

The overall winners of the Commonwealth Book Prize and Short Story Prize will be announced in June.