Malaysian Ling Low’s lockdown tale makes shortlist for 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Ashman Adam
·3-min read
Malaysian writer Ling Low was among 25 people shortlisted for the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. — Picture courtesy of the Commonwealth Foundation
Malaysian writer Ling Low was among 25 people shortlisted for the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. — Picture courtesy of the Commonwealth Foundation

KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 — Malaysian writer Ling Low’s short fiction titled Weeds was among 25 out of a total 6,423 entries from 50 countries shortlisted for this year's Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

The annual competition is organised by the Commonwealth Foundation and awarded to the best unpublished fictional short story by any citizen of the 54 former territories of the British Empire.

Low is a journalist and filmmaker whose short stories have appeared in various anthologies of fiction.

She has written on arts and culture for the Guardian, South China Morning Post and Esquire Malaysia among other publications.

Low was also editor-in-chief of Poskod.MY, an online magazine focusing on Malaysian life and current affairs.

Her short films have also screened at international festivals and her comedy sketches have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She was a runner-up for Malaysia’s DK Dutt Memorial Award for Literary Excellence in 2016.

Her short story, Weeds, revolves around a retired wealthy man forced to stay indoors due to a national lockdown who begins to grow increasingly envious of his gardeners and their time in the sun.

Last year, another Malaysian, Sharmini Aphrodite, and her short fiction titled, Ouroboros, Ouroboros, was one of 20 entries to qualify for the contest out of over 5,000 works from writers across the world.

In 2019, two writers from Malaysia were shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, with one, Saras Manickam, taking home the Asian regional title.

Saras’ entry titled My Mother Pattu was picked over two other shortlisted stories — Miss Coelho, English Tea­cher by Indian author Kiran Doshi and Pengap by fellow Malay­sian Lokman Hakim, which was translated by Adriana Nordin Manan.

The contest is judged by writers, scholars, and artists from around the world where regional winners stand to win £2,500 (RM14,213) and the overall winner receives £5,000.

The international judges comprise esteemed writers from Asia, the UK, the Carribean and the Pacific. Among them are South African writer Zoë Wicomb; Nigerian writer A. Igoni Barrett; Bangladeshi writer, translator and editor Khademul Islam, British poet and fiction writer Keith Jarrett, Jamaican environmental activist, award-winning writer and 2012 Caribbean regional winner Diana McCaulay and award-winning author and 2016 Pacific regional winner Tina Makereti from New Zealand.

Wicomb — who leads the panel of judges —— described this year’s range of stories from speculative fictions that address environmental and political crises to the hyper-real and the supernatural.

“The great number of excellent submissions and the equivocal nature of aesthetic taste made for protracted discussions. It has been a privilege to participate in vigorous argument and thoughtful horse-trading as members of the judging panel generously conceded and negotiated priorities,” Wicomb said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

Anne T. Gallagher AO, director-general of the Commonwealth Foundation said that a record number of entries received this year for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize was a testimony to its enduring popularity and perhaps also to a deep creativity borne of isolation and uncertainty.

“The authors on this shortlist are to be celebrated for their mastery of the form. It is an honour for the Foundation to bring their work to wide public attention.

“And to all those who entered: we thank you for the timely reminder of the power of storytelling, not least its ability to comfort, inspire and heal,” she said in a press release.

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