Alumna Kanya D'Almeida '18 Named Regional Winner for 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

BY Nicole Saldarriaga, May 12, 2021

The Commonwealth Foundation announced today that alumna Kanya D'Almeida '18 is a regional winner of the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her story, "I Cleaned The—."

 

D'Almeida, who hails from Sri Lanka, has been named winner for Asia after rising above stiff competition—a shortlist of 25 stories written by authors from several different countries. 

 

According to judge Khademul Islam, "Even among Asia’s gratifyingly strong showing in this year’s Commonwealth short fiction sweepstakes, [D'Almeida's] submission stood out. A life-affirming story of love among the rambutan and clove trees of Sri Lanka – love for a baby not one’s own, love for a high-spirited elderly woman. Love found not among the stars but in human excrement. Literally. And all the more glorious for it. Just as class differences are subtly shaded, so too the narrator is aptly, and exquisitely, named Ishwari (Sanskrit for Goddess, with a capital ‘G’). A tale powerfully realized.”

 

D'Almeida cites her own experience as a new mother as the inspiration for her story. After her son was born, she says, "I was sitting on a rocking chair nursing him and watching the woman I’d hired to cook and clean for me washing his cloth nappies. And a voice in my head asked: Who is this child’s mother, you, or the person cleaning his shit?

 

In a statement about her regional win, D'Almeida said, "Writing in the English language, in a former British colony, means you’re never quite at home in language. All around you a world is unfolding in other tongues; words must either be cramped or elongated to fit circumstances that are decidedly not English; and your characters themselves may be unfamiliar with the language of your own story! That’s why I believe the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is such a haven for writers across the world—it is perhaps the only forum large enough to accommodate the many expressions of language that thrive from region to region. To be in the company of such a diversity of voices, to have my story read by such a diversity of judges, and to see the story emerge as one of the regional winners, is one of the great honours of my life."

D'Almeida's story will now proceed to the final round of judging, and an overall winner of the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize will be announced on June 30th at a virtual awards ceremony. 

 

Kanya D’Almeida is a Sri Lankan writer. Her fiction has appeared in Jaggery and The Bangalore Review. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. She’s working on a book of short stories about mad women. D’Almeida is the host of The Darkest Light, a podcast exploring birth and motherhood in Sri Lanka.

 


Original Article: 5/5/2021

 

Alumna Kanya D'Almeida '18 has been shortlisted for the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her story, "I Cleaned The—." Now celebrating its tenth year, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded to the best unpublished short fiction in the Commonwealth, which includes over 50 countries. D'Almeida's piece was chosen from over 6,000 submissions for the short list of twenty-five stories. 

 

According to South African novelist Zoë Wicomb, Chair of the judges, "Announcements about the death of the short story may be legion, but the 2021 shortlist loudly asserts that the form is in fine fettle. It also shows that writers continue to push at the very parameters of the short story. Many have tackled difficult subjects and found fresh means of representing these with courage and sensitivity. In this tenth year of the Prize we see from the submissions not only the flexibility of the form but also novel use of local non-standard Englishes as well as inventive inscription of native languages in standard English texts." 

 

"I Cleaned The—" is a story about a woman who spent 20 years doing the dirty work—cleaning human waste—who describes her life to a spinster in a home for "forsaken women." In a video introduction for the Commonwealth Prize (below), D'Almeida, who hails from Sri Lanka, said "To me, storytelling is the last avenue we have left to truly imagine possibilities. I think we're living in a time when any attempt to talk about alternatives to our way of life, to the systems that govern us, to our condition as a species is mocked at—it's shouted down, it's laughed at, it can even get you locked up. But fiction gives you just that little space, that quiet room, to fully explore, from start to finish, a different way and a different ending—and that's what I love about it." 

 

The regional winners of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize will be announced on May 12, 2021, and the overall winner will be announced at an online awards ceremony on June 30th. 

 

Kanya D’Almeida is a Sri Lankan writer. Her fiction has appeared in Jaggery and The Bangalore Review. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. She’s working on a book of short stories about mad women. Kanya is the host of The Darkest Light, a podcast exploring birth and motherhood in Sri Lanka.