23-year-old Innocent Chizaram Ilo is Africa’s regional winner of the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, the youngest to do so since the Prize was founded in 2012.
Ilo’s short story, ‘When a Woman Renounces Motherhood,’ alongside four others, were recently announced as recipients of the regional Prizes by the 2020 judging panel chaired by Ghanaian writer and editor Nii Ayikwei Parkes.
About the regional winners, Parkes had this to say:
“I don’t believe there is a perfect story; there are great stories, but no perfect stories. What is amazing is what happens when a story encounters a ready reader or listener – that moment is magic. That connection is never the same for any two people or for any two moments and that’s why I love judging competitions: I get to talk about stories with other people who love stories, but it’s completely unpredictable. We now have a list of regional winning stories that are striking for their lateral leaps, their use of language, voice and subversion – and their sheer courage. I look forward to the discussions with my fellow judges to pick an overall winner. I guarantee that it will be a story that moves people, but I don’t know which one it will be.”
Reacting to his win, an emotional Ilo said;
“I still can’t wrap my head around it. You know you always dream of this moment, how you’ll scream from the rooftops and rent your clothes. Then it comes by sudden and the only thing you can do is call your mother and cry over the phone about how proud your father would have been if he was alive. This means so much to me. I feel grateful, honored, proud and humbled at the same time. This is one of those moments that make me look back at all the late nights and piles of rejection emails and say, ‘Maybe, just maybe, this writing thing is worth it.”
Ilo joins the Hall of Fame of Nigerians who have won the regional prize: Jekwu Anyaegbun ‘Morrison Okoli’ (2012); Lesley Armah ‘Light’ (2016); Akwaeke Emezi ‘Who is like God’ (2017) and Efua Traoré ‘True Happiness’ (2018).
The other regional winners this year’s £2,500 and an online publication in renowned literary journal, Granta are: “The Great Indian Tee and Snakes” by Kritika Pandey (Asia Region), “Wherever Mister Jensen Went” by Reyah Martin (Canada and Europe Region), “Mafootoo” by Brian S. Heap (Caribbean Region) and “The Art of Waving” by Andrea E. Macleod (Pacific Region).
Founded in 2012, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction. It is open to Commonwealth citizens aged 18 and older in five regions: Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.
The global winner gets an additional £5,000 (approximately N2.4 million) and will be announced on the 30th of June.
Congratulations, Innocent Chizaram Ilo!!!