Student Reyah Martin is one of just 20 authors whose stories have been shortlisted by an international judging panel for the world’s most global literature prize.
The second year French and Journalism and Creative Writing student has been nominated for the prestigious Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her fiction piece, ‘Wherever Mister Jensen Went.’
The story explores the power of rumour and hysteria, for better or for worse, and challenges society, calling for change before it’s too late
The 20-year-old from Muirhead, North Lanarkshire, is also working on her debut novel about women in the First World War, and is the only nominee from the UK to make it onto the shortlist.
Reyah said: “It’s just incredible to be shortlisted and I’m glad it’s finally out in the open as I’ve known since last month but couldn’t tell anyone until it was publicly announced. I persuaded close friends to stay up until midnight the day the embargo lifted so I could finally tell them.
“I’ve always loved to write – my aunt has a video clip of me aged about six saying I want to be a writer when I grow up, so this feels amazing if a bit daunting.”
Reyah, who also tutors English and Creative Writing with a focus on encouraging young people, added: “I’m also working on my debut novel and that’s one positive thing about the lockdown is that I’m finally getting time to focus on that project.”
The prize is a showcase for upcoming talent and is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished fiction up to 5,000 words from any of the Commonwealth’s 54 Member States.
Regional winners receive £2,500 and the overall winner receives £5,000, with short stories translated into English from other languages also eligible.
It's the only prize in the world where entries can be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, English, French, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil, and Turkish and the stories from this year’s shortlist were selected from more than 5,000 entries from 49 Commonwealth countries.
Chair of the Judges, Ghanaian writer and editor Nii Ayikwei Parkes, said: “These stories, drawn from all over the globe, are as harrowing as they are uplifting, funny while being tragic—and defiant in the face of politics, bigotry and injustice. But, crucially, at a time like this, with the world beset with myriad challenges and a devastating virus, the stories are grounded in faith, hope and the humanity we all share.’
Anne T. Gallagher AO, Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation, the intergovernmental organisation which administers the prize, said: “Once again, the short story prize has confirmed the depth and diversity of the literary culture across the Commonwealth of Nations: 54 countries that together represent over two billion people.”
The 2020 shortlisted stories will be published in the online magazine of Commonwealth Writers, adda, which features new writing from around the globe. Commonwealth Writers is the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation, which develops and connects writers across the world.