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Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah shortlisted for world’s richest short story prize

Petina Gappah

An Elegy for EasterlyThe Book of MemoryAlert! Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah has made the shortlist of the United Kingdom’s 2016 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award – the world’s richest prize for a single short story.

The prize goes to a story in English of up to 6,000 words, by an author from anywhere in the world who has been published in the UK or Ireland.

Six authors from five countries make up the shortlist for this year’s award, which comes with £30 000 prize money (about R657 000).

The winner will be announced in London on Friday, 22 April.

This is the second time Gappah has been up for the award; she was longlisted in 2010 for the title story of her debut book, An Elegy for Easterly. The winner that year was New Zealand author CK Stead.

Gappah also recently became the first Zimbabwean author to be longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, for her novel The Book of Memory.
2016 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award shortlist

  • “The News of Her Death” by Petina Gappah
  • “The Dacha” by Alix Christie
  • “What Time is it Now?” by Colum McCann
  • “Unbeschert” by Edith Pearlman
  • “The Human Phonograph” by Jonathan Tel
  • “The Phosphoresence” by Nicholas Ruddock


Judge and Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate said: “What impressed me most about this year’s shortlist is the sheer variety of form and subject matter, from Colum McCann’s gripping piece of meta-fiction to the dreamlike qualities of Nicholas Ruddock’s ‘The Phosphorescence’ and the nostalgia of Edith Pearlman’s ‘Unbeschert’.

“Interwar New York, a hair stylist in Africa, a dacha near East Berlin and a research station in China’s nuclear weapons programme – quite some breadth, in a collection of exceptionally accomplished stories. Picking a winner will be immensely difficult.”

Excerpts from all the stories are available to read on the prize’s website:

“The News of Her Death” excerpt

By the time Pepukai emerged from the kombi at Highfield, it had just gone half past nine. She was thirty minutes late. Kindness had said she should come at nine or just before. She had followed the directions in the tex message: take kombi to Machipisa, get off at Gwanzura, cross road, walk past Mushandirapamwe Hotel, go left after TM, go past market, saloon (that is how Kindness had spelled it) is next to butcher.

“The Dacha” excerpt:

All of a sudden everybody Carla and Wolfgang knew was getting a “dacha”. This was about a year after they moved from New York to Berlin. Another German-American couple got one in the west, near Wannsee. Two expat families landed plots in a garden colony in the former east. Wolfgang, Carla’s west German husband, was not convinced. It meant, he said, that they were staying. Nobody bought a sandy lot featuring a cheap, asbestos-clad shack in the former GDR unless they were staying.

“What Time is it Now?” excerpt:

He had agreed in spring to write a short story for the New Year’s Eve edition of a newspaper magazine. An easy enough task, he thought at first. In late May he settled down to sketch out a few images that might work, but soon found himself, struggling, adrift. For a couple of weeks in early summer he cast about, chased ideas and paragraphs, left a few hanging, found himself postponing the assignment, putting it to the back of his mind. Occasionally he pulled his notes out again, then abandoned them once more.

“Unbeschert” excerpt:

“Green, they are green, your eyes, they are the color of, maybe, I don’t know …”

“Schav,” she suggested from the other end of the couch, and then remembering that his Polish family’s accent was more guttural than hers, “Skchav,” she corrected. Pronounced either way, it was a chilled green soup made of sorrel leaves and broth, and egg yolks too if the cook felt generous.

“The Human Phonograph” excerpt

And as a figure in reflective helmet and articulated suit half-walks half-floats over the unreal surface she make-believes he is her husband, and the moon itself could perfectly well be Qinghai province for all anybody could tell, and one of the other translators, one who specializes in English, says Mr. Armstrong is saying, ‘A small step for man, a large step for man’ and she shades her eyes with her hands so nobody can see her cry.

It has been seven years.

“The Phosphoresence” excerpt

The two men left the apartment at 7 Rue Honoré Ugo just before sunrise, dressed identically in black shorts and muscle shirts, walking up the slight grade to the eastern end of Rue Rosetti to the gateway placed there by the City of Nice, the opening for which was cut into a stone wall topped with ornate and perforated wrought-iron in green and gold, reaching four metres high, and there they entered and turned and headed upwards, beginning to run, shoulder to shoulder up the switchbacking staircase, taking turns to the inside, nine steps, nine steps and so on, up and up into the semi-manicured pine forest of the “chateau” as it was called (though no chateau was there) [...]

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Image courtesy of Zimbabwe News Now


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