Award-winning Malaysian author Shih-Li Kow's short story submission Relative Distance has been selected as one of the 28 shortlisted stories for the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The prize is awarded annually to the best unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth's 56 Member States.
"A man visits his ageing uncle and pretends he has returned from abroad. In the few days that they spend together, he navigates their shared history and old conflicts," reads a brief description about Kow's story Relative Distance.
"Stories are so important, there is much truth in fiction, there is much that is unsayable in real life, which can be articulated in stories. And stories help us learn, help us communicate better, stories help us develop empathy I hope, and stories help us make sense of this crazy changing world," says Kow, 54, a former chemical engineer, who has seen her short fiction published in various journals and anthologies since 2007.
In 2018, she won a top French literary award, the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger (First Novel Award, in the foreign category) for her debut novel, The Sum Of Our Follies (2014), which has been translated into French and Italian.
The Kuala Lumpur-based Kow's previous book, Ripples and Other Stories, published in 2008, was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the First Book Category and shortlisted for the 2009 Frank O’ Connor International Short Story Award (in Ireland).
“This year's shortlist is a concert of voices from across the Commonwealth, showcasing the richness of its writing traditions, histories and perspectives. These stories brim with the energy and urgency of the present moment - read them to experience the beat and pulse of contemporary storytelling," says Pakistani writer and translator Bilal Tanweer, who is chair of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2023 judges.
"These stories perform the essential function of the best fiction: they make us see what we couldn’t see, awaken our sympathies for people we didn’t know, and bring us closer to the world we already inhabit. What we see here are writers, who with their varied styles and strategies, stretch our sense of the real. These stories, like music, go clean through our gut and spine, filling us with sensations ranging from dysphoric anguish to euphoric laughter, and after reading each story, we wake up to the world, changed,” he adds.
Stories range from fables to family dramas, tackling a range of themes and topics from violence and war to environmental damage, from love and loss to unexpected friendships.
They span genres from speculative and comic fiction to historical fiction and crime.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize, first awarded in 2012, is administered by the Commonwealth Foundation.
Five other judges are on the panel, each representing the five regions of the Commonwealth. These are Rwandan-born writer, photographer and editor, Rémy Ngamije (Africa), Sri Lankan author and publisher Ameena Hussein (Asia), British-Canadian author Katrina Best (Canada and Europe), Saint Lucian poet and novelist Mac Donald Dixon (Caribbean) and New Zealand’s former Poet Laureate, Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh (Pacific).
The 2023 shortlisted stories will be published in adda, the online magazine of the Commonwealth Foundation which features new writing from around the globe.
The regional winners will be announced on May 17, before being published online by literary magazine Granta.
The overall winner will be announced on June 27.
Regional winners receive £2,500 (RM13,600) and the overall winner receives £5,000 (RM27,200).
In May 2019, writer Saras Manickam made Malaysian literary history when she became the first local writer to receive a Commonwealth Short Story Prize accolade. Her short story My Mother Pattu was picked as the Asian regional winner of the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
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