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T&T author wins short story prize

Published: 
Saturday, July 1, 2017
Ingrid Persaud

A tale of chocolate and terminal illness clinched this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize, which was won by Ingrid Persaud from T&T for her story The Sweet Sop. The story was chosen from the five regional winning stories in this year’s competition, which received a record 6,000 entries from Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

The Sweet Sop is Persaud’s first short story. Terminal illness and the recent deaths of close family members fed into the work as did the true story of an assassination engineered by regularly feeding the victim poisoned Belgian chocolates. Death, terminal illness, chocolate—it all melted into The Sweet Sop.

The Chair of the judging panel, novelist Kamila Shamsie, said that “the judges were very impressed by The Sweet Sop’s originality, the strength of its characterisation, the control of voice, and its humour and emotional punch. It loses none of its effectiveness on a second or third or fourth re-reading, always the mark of a rich and layered story.”

Jacob Ross said: “Ultimately, the story that stood out for us, for its daring—in terms of narrative style, execution of subject matter—and above all its nuanced capturing of the relationship between a negligent father and his son, is The Sweet Sop. Not only does the writer succeed in making the reader accept the humanity of an act that one would instinctively object to, but she does so with an impressive lightness of touch and humour.”

Sharon Millar, who won the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story prize for The Whale House, was delighted to hear about Persaud’s award. In an online interview with the Guardian, she said:

“I am thrilled about Ingrid’s win because it means that there is something very exciting going on in the region. We struggle with publishing and marketing issues on these small islands and often it is almost impossible to get a publisher to look at us. Most people have to leave their homes to attain any sort of literary success.

“I was very impressed with Ingrid’s The Sweet Sop because of the layering and subtle management of difficult material which is often the most challenging to get on the page. She covered great emotional terrain with economy and skill and that is no easy feat in a short story. It’s an honour to be in her company.”

Millar also commented on how winning the award affected her in 2013: “It changed my life in many ways. To be given that type of validation makes you take yourself much more seriously as a writer. Other people suddenly take your work more seriously as well. The Commonwealth Writers have remained in my life and I continue to work with them so it’s not as if you win a prize, move on, and that’s the end of it. They still provide a support system for me.”

Born in Trinidad, Ingrid Persaud has also had lives as a legal academic, a trained visual artist and a project manager. Although she came to fiction later in life, she has always been preoccupied with the power of words, both in her academic work and then as a fine artist where she explored text as art. Through fiction writing she has finally settled into her intellectual home. If I Never Went Home, published in 2014, was Persaud’s first novel and she is currently working on her second. Her physical homes are Barbados and London which she shares with “the husband, teenaged twin boys, a feral chicken and two rescue dogs.”

Persaud commented, “I am humbled to be this year’s winner. Thanks to the Commonwealth Foundation for promoting and encouraging contemporary writing. The Sweet Sop is an intimate story that attempts to ask universal questions. I hope you enjoy it.”

The award was presented on June 30 at The Arts House by Singapore’s most prolific writer of English fiction, Catherine Lim.

Also present were the other four regional winners: Akwaeke Emezi for Who is Like God, Anushka Jasraj for Drawing Lessons, Tracy Fells for The Naming of Moths, and Nat Newman for The Death of Margaret Roe.

In its sixth year, the Commonwealth Prize is for the best piece of unpublished short fiction in English. It is judged by an international panel of writers, representing each of the five regions of the Commonwealth. Joining Kamila Shamsie on the judging panel were Zukiswa Wanner (Africa), Mahesh Rao (Asia), Jacqueline Baker (Canada and Europe), Jacob Ross (Caribbean) and Vilsoni Hereniko (Pacific).

Janet Steel, Programme Manager of Commonwealth Writers, said:

“Ingrid Persaud’s winning story, The Sweet Sop, has a fresh and unique voice that immerses the reader into the complexities of father and son relationships. A fine balance between humour, poignancy and sticky negotiations, we are delighted that this talented writer has received the recognition she so rightly deserves for this, her first short story.”

• The Sweet Sop can be read on Granta online at www.granta.com/the-sweet-sop.