Innocent Chizaram Ilo Emerges 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Winner for African Region

Nigeria’s Innocent Chizaram Ilo has emerged the African region winner of the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. They are the youngest ever writer to be awarded the regional prize. They have been a finalist for the Gerald Kraak Award, the Short Story Day Africa Prize and the Wilbur Smith Author of Tomorrow Prize. They have also won the Africa YMCA and Oxford Festival of the Arts short story contests.

Of the winning story, “When a Woman Renounces Motherhood,” the Chair of judges, Ghanaian writer and editor Nii Ayikwei Parkes, said, ‘Innocent’s story is particularly striking for their confidence switching between languages. The unapologetic use of interspersed, un-italicised Igbo and pidgin add a wonderful texture to the storytelling.’

South African writer and musician Mohale Mashigo, representing the African region, commented:

‘”When a Woman Renounces Motherhood” is one of those stories that tell you something shocking and yet leave you with empathy for the characters in a story. The writing is so specific and intimate which makes you want to go back and read it again … and again.’

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2,000–5,000 words) in English. Regional winners each receive £2,500 and the overall winner receives £5,000. Translated entries are also eligible, as are stories written in the original Bengali, Chinese, French, Greek, Kiswahili, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Tamil and Turkish. The competition is free to enter.

Innocent’s story explores how a woman and her mother bond in the face of a sexist tradition. The story, Ilo says, ‘is inspired by my mother. No, she hasn’t renounced motherhood, at least not yet. But I just wanted to capture what women like my mother lose and give up in the name of marriage and, by extension, motherhood.’

On hearing of the win, Ilo said, ‘I still can’t wrap my head around it. You know you always dream of this moment, how you’ll scream from the rooftops and rent your clothes. Then it comes by sudden and the only thing you can do is call your mother and cry over the phone about how proud your father would have been if he was alive. This means so much to me. I feel grateful, honoured, proud, and humbled, at the same time. This is one of those moments that make me look back at all the late nights and piles of rejection emails and say, “Maybe, just maybe, this writing thing is worth it.”

The other regional winners are: “The Great Indian Tee and Snakes” by Kritika Pandey (Asia Region), “Wherever Mister Jensen Went” by Reyah Martin (Canada and Europe Region), “Mafootoo” by Brian S. Heap (Caribbean Region) and “The Art of Waving” by Andrea E. Macleod (Pacific Region).

Innocent, like all other regional winners will receive £2,500 and be published online by the literary magazine Granta. The 2020 overall winner, who receives £5000, will be announced during a special award ceremony which will be broadcast online on June 30, 2020.

Congratulations, Innocent Chizaram Ilo.

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