Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 24, 2013

Commonwealth Writers Book Prize discontinued

I am disappointed to learn that the Commonwealth Writers Book Prize has been discontinued for 2014.

Commonwealth Writers has re-focused its prizes to concentrate on the Short Story. It will no longer offer the Commonwealth Book Prize.

Commonwealth Writers develops the craft of individual writers and builds communities of emerging voices which can influence the decision-making processes affecting their lives. The Short Story Prize aims to identify talented writers who will go on to inspire their local communities.

The Short Story Prize enables writers to enter from countries where there is little or no publishing industry.  Authors writing in languages other than English are also able to enter stories translated into English. The Prize unearths and promotes the best new writing from across the Commonwealth, developing literary connections worldwide.

I think it’s an unfortunate decision.  The previous book prize was a great way to discover writing from around the planet, and I wasn’t happy when they ‘refocussed’ it on emerging writers – because that denied opportunity to established writers.  Dress it up how they like, it’s a funding cutback, surely, and especially in places with a limited book culture, established writers need the purchasing power of the privileged West for an income.  How are we to know about the best of their books, eh?

As you can see from the tag ‘debut Australian fiction’ I do read plenty of emerging authors and have made some beaut discoveries through the CW Best First Book Prize, but I really liked finding out about the best of writing from Commonwealth countries.  That’s how I discovered Caryl Philips, Michelle de Kretser, Aminata Forna, Rana Dasgupta, Marina Endicott, Lawrence Hill, Andrea Levy, Damon Galgut and Frances Itani.

And now the Powers That Be at the CW are limiting the prize to a form that doesn’t interest me much.  I’ve been in the habit of buying one or two of the regional winners each year (and am currently reading Waiting for an Angel by Nigerian author Helon Habila)  (update, see my review) but I’ll probably take very little notice of this prize at all from now onward.

I guess I’ll have to depend on fellow bloggers to alert me to noteworthy novels, but I suspect that like me, they’ll be depending on places with a book prize culture to find out about them now.


  1. Hello Lisa and fellow blog readers,
    Its unfortunate that the Commonwealth Foundation has limited the scope of its writing prizes. I do think that its important for established literary organizations to offer literary oportunities for emerging writers, such as myself, to put our work out into the mainstream. I don’t read alot of short stories out of preference for the novel form. The short story form is a good way for fiction writers to submit their work to literary journals and magazines and perfect their craft thereby progressing to the novel form. The Commonwealth Foundation has been instrumental in creating a platform for prize winners and finalists to gain exposure nationally and internationally. Lisa, I thought your point about established writers attaining the “purchasing power of the privileged West for an income” is well noted. But its important to mention that many established writers also pursue teaching and publishing careers to supplement their income as well. In addition to the commonwealth writing prizes, I take note of other notable writing competitions such as the Caine Prize, National Book Award, and the David Unaipon Award to familiarize myself with writers of merit.


    • Yes, the prizes you mention are worth keeping an eye on – but it’s always disappointing when a prize is withdrawn, and when it’s the CW, well, you have to wonder why. I have no idea where the funds for it came from – but it’s a huge organisation and surely the amount of money involved would be a drop in the ocean to them. It’s a real pity.


  2. I’m sorry to hear about this change as well. One of the things that I appreciated about the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize was that it exposed you to writers who often have a solid body of published works behind them that an international readership is often unaware of. By shifting the emphasis to emerging writers and especially the short story story form, there’s less likely to be a backlist to discover.


    • Yes, Janine, your point is well made – the CW prize was a helpful counterbalance to the dominance of US and UK publishing in the English-speaking book world. It was a way of introducing us to a wider range of cultures thus contributing to intercultural understanding – and I just wonder what will fill that gap.


  3. Very sad news


  4. I’m afraid the Commonwealth Prize lost my interest some years back, so I can’t say that I’ll miss its disappearance. My problem was that I felt the Prize was more dedicated to promoting work than it was to recognizing good work –all too often the “winners” simply were not very good.

    Since the promotion of deserving voices that I objected to was, in fact, the purpose of the prize, it seems to me that Commonwealth Writers could serve those interests better by using web resources to create an active archive of reviews (decently catalogued by genre, country of origin, etc.) that one could drop in on. That would be far more useful, and less costly, than the prize competition was. I suspect the notion of the prize was that publishers could slap a sticker on the book and increase sales — I’ve always thought the selling more copies of an inferior book was a bad idea as it only ended up produced discouraged readers in the long run.

    I like short stories more than you do, but agree that yet another Short Story prize is of little value. Such competitions don’t “introduce” new writers to readers — the winners often don’t have a published volume that one could buy and one story hardly is representative even if they do.


    • That’s a brilliant idea, Kevin, I’d love being able to access a web resource like that. A sort of non-commercial GoodReads,with quality control over the reviews!


  5. This is sad news, Lisa.


    • From now on, I look to you, Vishy, to keep us informed about the best of Indian Lit and who the prize-winners are – your recommendations so far have been first rate:)


      • Thanks Lisa. I am glad that you liked my recommendations.

        I just got Elliot Perlman’s ‘Three Dollars’ :) Can’t wait to read it! Thanks for the recommendation.


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