Roland Watson-Grant: Caribbean Winner, 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Jamaican author Roland Watson-Grant is the Caribbean Winner of the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, with “The Disappearance of Mumma Dell”his winning story of a matriarch’s funeral gone awry, a missing body, a forbidden pear tree and a community under threat is told through the eyes of a teenager. The 2021 overall winner will be announced during an award ceremony at 1:00pm BST on June 30, 2021.

The Commonwealth Foundation today announces the regional winners of the world’s most global literary prize. Jamaican author Roland Watson-Grant has won the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story competition (Caribbean) for his story ‘The Disappearance of Mumma Dell’.

The 48-year-old Jamaican author beat off competition from a strong field of shortlisted entrants including fellow Jamaican Sharma Taylor, Heather Barker from Barbados, and Andre Bagoo and Rashad Hosein from Trinidad and Tobago to become the Caribbean winner. He will go through to the final round of judging and the overall winner will be announced on 30 June. In Watson-Grant’s story, a matriarch’s funeral gets derailed just before her body goes missing, causing panic in a rural Jamaican district that is itself in danger of vanishing from the map.

Regional judge Jamaican environmental activist, award-winning writer and 2012 Caribbean regional winner Diana McCaulay says, ‘A wiseass, pitch-perfect teenager tells the story of a pear tree near to the rail tracks of a bauxite train in a rural Jamaican district – no one will eat from this particular tree – but why? “The Disappearance of Mumma Dell” teems with lightly but perfectly sketched and familiar characters – a hellfire preacher, a scammer, community elders and shadowy politicians. Promises are broken, warnings are ignored, and the now power of social media supersedes the then magic of obeah. Rich, funny and deeply rooted in the Jamaican countryside, this story reverberates with the drumbeats of the ancestors and delivers an incisive commentary on what gets protected, by whom and why.’  

Watson-Grant says, ‘It’s a double-win for me. I have been among talented writers from across the globe who shared their fiction with the world and their personal realities by email. In what can be described as a singular historical moment and a worldwide storm, we have created a time capsule and found strength in a community of storytellers.’

He adds, ‘I entered Commonwealth Short Story Prize because I write in the spaces where cultures have conversations. I eavesdrop on what one culture –based on geography or time– has to share with another.  I couldn’t ignore a platform that is dedicated to the very same thing.’

The story was selected from a shortlist of 25 by the international judging panel, chaired by South African writer Zoë Wicomb. The other panelists are Nigerian writer A. Igoni Barrett; Bangladeshi writer, translator and editor Khademul Islam; British poet and fiction writer Keith Jarrett; Jamaican environmental activist, award-winning writer and 2012 Caribbean regional winner Diana McCaulay; and award-winning author and 2016 Pacific regional winner Tina Makereti from New Zealand. The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 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, English, French, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil, and Turkish.

The full list of regional winners are as follows:

  • Africa: ‘Granddaughter of The Octopus’ by Rémy Ngamije (Namibia)
  • Asia: ‘I Cleaned The-’ by Kanya D’Almeida (Sri Lanka)
  • Canada and Europe: ‘Turnstones’ by Carol Farrelly (UK)
  • Caribbean: ‘The Disappearance of Mumma Dell’ by Roland Watson-Grant (Jamaica)
  • Pacific: ‘Fertile Soil’ by Katerina Gibson (Australia)

The five regional winners’ stories will be published online by the literary magazine Granta in the run-up to the announcement of the overall winner and published in a special print edition by Paper + Ink.

Luke Neima, Granta’s Deputy Editor, says, ‘Granta magazine is proud to be partnering with the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in this its tenth anniversary, by publishing the regional and overall prize winners for 2021. Over the past decade the reach and the influence of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize has grown rapidly, and for very good reason. This year’s regional winners bear testament to the quality of the writing that the prize attracts, and its success, time and again, in bringing to light talented new voices who would otherwise have no clear route to finding a global audience.’  

The Commonwealth Foundation is also delighted to announce a new three-year partnership with The London Library, which includes the offer of a year’s Full Membership to the five regional winners and two years’ Full Membership to the overall winner.

Last year’s Caribbean winner was Brian Heap, for his story ‘Mafootoo’. Heap used some of his prize money as seed money for a student project, organising two creative writing competitions at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus in Jamaica.

Now in its tenth year, the prize has developed a strong reputation for discovering new writers and bringing them to a global audience. Nominations have helped many new writers find publishers and agents. Trinidadian Ingrid Persaud, 2017 winner, published her debut novel Love After Love with by Faber in the UK in spring 2020.  Sharma Taylor, shortlisted in 2018, 2020 and 2021 has just signed a two-book deal with Virago; the first book, her debut novel, is based on her shortlisted story ‘Son Son’s Birthday’.  2018 overall winner Kevin Jared Hosein will publish his new novel, Devotion, with Bloomsbury in 2022. He writes, ‘I didn’t expect this win to reap so many benefits—and if I use this momentum wisely, I think this could be something of a game changer for me, or at least a great step up in my writing career. As I said, going from no agent to suddenly having choices is crazy. And also unprecedented for a Trinidadian writer based in Trinidad. Most of us have had to migrate and do MFA’s in the US or UK in hopes of even getting an agent to pay attention.’

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is administered by the Commonwealth Foundation, through its cultural initiative Commonwealth Writers. The 2021 overall winner will be announced during a special award ceremony which will be broadcast online at 1pm BST on 30 June 2021.

Sign-up to our newsletter to receive a link to the broadcast nearer the time at commonwealthwriters.org/signup or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram @cwwriters to find out more. The event will provide everyone with a chance to hear excerpts from the stories, to meet the regional winners and to find out, first-hand, who has been selected as the overall winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2020. Keep up to date with the prize and join the conversation via: commonwealthwriters.org, facebook.com/cwwriters, twitter.com/cwwriters, and instagram.com/cwwriters

Authors’ and Judges’ Photographs and Biographies can be found here

Also see www.commonwealthfoundation.com

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