Ntsika Kota has been awarded the 2022 Commonwealth short story prize, making history as the first writer from Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) to win the prize. He secured it with his 'And the earth drank deep' story.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is an annual award for unpublished short fiction administered and funded by the Commonwealth Foundation.
Kota's book was described as a 'universal story' for including different cultures and generations. The judges found his story to be a true representation of humanity by portraying the evil and heroism of people.
Kota, from Mbabane, Eswatini, was announced as the winner in an online ceremony on June 21. Second to him came, Sofia Mariah Ma Singapore (for Asia), Cecil Browne United Kingdom/St Vincent and the Grenadines (for Canada and Europe), Diana McCaulay, Jamaica (for the Caribbean), and Mary Rokonadravu, Fiji (for the Pacific).
According to him, he had not imagined himself as a winner of the competition.
"I never really let myself hope to win, let alone expect to. With all the entries, I told myself to be realistic. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I got that call," he said.
This year's judging panel was comprised of the Rwandan publisher, Louise Umutoni-Bower, Indian writer Jahnavi Barua, Cypriot-born poet and translator Stephanos Stephanides, award-winning writer Kevin Jared Hosein from Trinidad and Tobago, and Wiradjuri writer, poet and academic from Australia, Jeanine Leane. It was chaired by Guyanese writer, Fred D'Aguiar.
"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," D'Aguiar said.
"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 skeptical of readers," he continued.
He added that 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, he said.
Kota is a chemist by training and a self-taught writer, originally inspired by a high school writing assignment according to him. "My work is a reflection of my thoughts and feelings, and I enjoy creating that reflection," he said.
Overall, there were 6730 entries from 52 Commonwealth countries this year, with 26 stories shortlisted. All the shortlisted stories will be published on adda, Commonwealth writers' online magazine, later in the year.
All of the regional winning stories of the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, including Kota's, were published by Granta, a literary magazine, in partnership with Commonwealth writers. All five regional winning stories will also be made available in a special print collection from Paper + Ink.
"Ntsika's success is a reminder of the universality of writing and storytelling. We all have that special power of storytelling within us, if we can only find a platform to unleash it," Dr Anne Gallagher, Director General of the Commonwealth Foundation, said.
"The prize has an uncanny ability to unearth new talent that then takes the world by storm. After reading 'and the earth drank deep', I'm sure that trend will continue," she added.