Twenty-nine-year-old Ntsika Kota has won the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, worth £5,000, becoming both the first writer from landlocked Eswatini in South Africa to win the prize and also the first writer from that country to be shortlisted.
Kota’s winning story, ‘and the earth drank deep‘ centres around a group of villagers in a hunter-gatherer society set in the ‘distant past of our species’. As they encounter threats from wild animals, disease, and unexpected death, the story tells of a day when ‘cold blood flowed for the first time, and the earth drank deep’. Some aspects of the social hierarchy of the village were very loosely based upon Nguni cultures from Southern Africa, Kota says, but the society he depicts is imaginary.
The Commonwealth Foundation announced Kota’s win in an online ceremony, in which he was presented with the award by performance poet Mr Gee. The judge representing the African region, Rwandan publisher Louise Umutoni-Bower, praised it as a story that ‘uses African folktale in a way that remains true to form but is also accessible. It is a reminder of a time when storytelling had a prized place in social gatherings. I was personally transported back to the floor by my mother’s feet where I quietly listened to tales of Rwandan folk heroes and villains.’
Chair of the Judges, Guyanese writer Fred D’Aguiar, said: “This year’s winner is an instant classic: a linear narrative in the tradition of the realist short story. The events unfold around a central ethical conceit with tension that accumulates, and a surprise ending leaves the reader with many questions and in a state of provocation. The deceitfully simple and straightforward style rubs against an artful orchestration of tension. The writer controls elements of character and plot to captivate the most sceptical of readers. The reader inherits a host of hot topics for discussion at the end of the story all of which shine back at the reader’s world. Like the best parables the result is an interplay between story and reality, invention and the quotidian, the writer’s imagination and the world of the reader.”
Born in Mbabane, Eswatini, Ntsika Kota is a chemist by training. A self-taught writer, he was originally inspired by a high school writing assignment. Ntsika’s work is a reflection of his thoughts and feelings, and he enjoys creating that reflection.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is free to enter and is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from the Commonwealth.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, Creole, French, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil, and Turkish as well as English.
The literary magazine Granta has published all of the regional winning stories of the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, including ‘and the earth drank deep’.
The five stories are also available in a special print collection from Paper + Ink (www.paperand.ink).