Sri Lanka and New Zealand triumph – Commonwealth Writers announces winners for 2012 prizes

Sri Lankan, Shehan Karunatilaka, author of Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew
(Vintage Publishing, Random House India) has won the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize.

Emma Martin from New Zealand captured the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her story Two Girls in a Boat. The awards were presented at Hay Festival, London by the multiple prize-winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Shehan Karunatilaka was born in Galle, Sri Lanka. He studied business and administration at Massey University in New Zealand, after which he worked as an advertising copywriter. He has also written rock songs, travel stories and basslines.

“This fabulously enjoyable read will keep you entertained and rooting for the protagonist until the very end, while delivering startling truths about cricket and about Sri Lanka,” said Chair of the Commonwealth Book Prize, Margaret Busby. “Narrated by a retired hard-drinking sports journalist on an obsessive quest for the mysterious Pradeep Mathew, who may just be Sri Lanka’s best all-time cricketer, it’s an insightful story about fact and gullibility, about world history, about friends and family; and it comes with this attestable guarantee: “If you’ve never seen a cricket match; if you have and it has made you snore; if you can’t understand why anyone would watch, let alone obsess over this dull game, then this is the book for you.” Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew sets the standard high for the new Commonwealth Book Prize, which aims to discover new talent and energise literary output in the different regions.”

An elated Karunatilaka said, “It’s incredible considering where the book began. I wasn’t certain that it would be published outside of Colombo when I was writing it. I was surprised to make it to the final five, considering how strong the Asia shortlist was. To win it is quite crazy. Now I just need to find a pub in Wales that serves arrack. It’s a privilege to be part of a global prize that has recognised so many great writers over the years. I feel deeply honoured.” For winning the Commonwealth Book Prize, Karunatilaka receives £10,000.

Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner,

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner, Emma Martin grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand. She started writing fiction in mid-life, completing an MA in Creative Writing at the Victoria University of Wellington in 2010. Her stories and essays have since been published in literary journals and anthologies in New Zealand and the UK. She lives in Wellington, and is currently working on a collection of short stories.

Bernardine Evaristo, Chair, Commonwealth Short Story Prize, was full of praise for Martin.

“There were so many brilliant short stories on our shortlist but Two Girls in a Boat rose to the top as it fulfilled the judges’ brief that the winning entry have linguistic flair, originality, depth and daring. The story was chosen for its gorgeous, elegant and spare writing; its nuanced handling of time, place and relationships; its daring, provocative subject matter and clear-eyed exploration of the choice of heterosexual conformity in the face of sexual mutability. Until we had decided on our shortlist, all entries were anonymous. So it is also great that this prize, I think we can claim, has discovered Emma Martin, who has not yet published a book, and brought her to an international audience. With her considerable talent we hope to see more of her work in the future.”

Martin said, “It is a wonderful and unexpected honour to win this prize. Writing can be a solitary business, so to receive any award is immensely encouraging. But the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is especially meaningful to me – I couldn’t be more grateful to Commonwealth Writers for welcoming me into its global community.” Martin’s prize is £5,000.

Check out video interviews with Shehan Karunatilaka and Emma Martin.

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