At a time when the world is most in need of stories – to help us in self-isolation and prove that we are all in this together, that we are all part of one human family– the short list for one of the world’s most international of literature prizes has just been released.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from all 54 of the Commonwealth countries.  This year the shortlist of 20 sees work from 15 countries, including – for the first time – The Gambia.  There are five stories from Africa all-told, five from Asia, four from Canada and Europe, three from the Caribbean and three from Pacific countries.

The Gambian entry is from ML Kejera, a Chicago–based author whose story, ‘Fatou vs the Dictator’, sees a young woman called Fatou, who was raised in The Gambia’s diaspora, waiting in an airport for her flight home.  She comes across her recently ousted dictator and debates whether she should confront him.  Though born in Bakau in The Gambia, Kejera left the country with his family in 1999.  He has lived in Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the US. He speaks English and French and can understand Mandinka which is spoken in The Gambia.  His work has been published in numerous literary magazines.  He is currently working on a short story collection about The Gambia, for which he is seeking representation.

Kejera’s story joins entries from Ghana, Nigeria (two entries) and South Africa.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is now in its ninth year, and 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. For example, Indian author Parashar Kulkarni, overall winner in 2016, was approached by Penguin Random House India which last year published his debut novella, Cow and Company, based on his winning short story. Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite, one of the UK Guardian’s 2019 debut novelists to watch for her novel My Sister, the Serial Killer, secured her agent through the visibility of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

The 2020 judging panel is chaired by the Ghanaian writer and editor Nii Ayikwei Parkes. The other panellists are: South African writer and musician Mohale Mashigo, Executive Director of the Singapore Books Council William Phuan, Canadian author Heather O’Neill, Trinidadian scholar and writer Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw and  Australian writer and arts organiser Nic Low, who was himself shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize earlier in his career.

The 2020 shortlisted stories will be published online, in the innovative online magazine of Commonwealth Writers, adda [,] which features new writing from around the globe. The judges will go on to choose a winner for each of the five regions. These regional winners, who each receive £2,500, will be announced on Tuesday 2 June, before being published online by the literary magazine Granta. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday 7 July and receives an additional £5,000.