Fiji writer, Mary Rokonadravu has won the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Pacific) for her story, The Nightwatch.
Rokonadravu described the win as affirming. “Stories are bridges to connect us with each other, especially when we disagree or are different – stories allow us to walk in each other’s complexities and gain understanding of the familiar. Facts don’t do that.”
She adds, “I don’t have to leave the islands of the Pacific in order to be heard. I chose to remain in Fiji, to remain in the Pacific, and to tell stories from here. It was a difficult choice early on because there is no literary and publishing infrastructure in Fiji and this win is reaffirming.”
The Nightwatch is a story about the plight of ordinary people within the machinations of capitalism and Christian fundamentalism, the effect these influences have on indigenous peoples and their responses to national and global events—and a story about unlikely sources of compassion. It tells the tale of a group of unrelated individuals drawn together through a series of events involving mining, marginal employment, sex work, and the baking of bread against the backdrop of a coup and the rise of a Christian prophetess.
Papua New Guinea author, Baka Bina was also shortlisted in the Pacific category, alongside writers from Australia and New Zealand.
Rokonadravu will now go through to the final round of judging for the overall winner, to be announced on 21 June.
The judge representing the Pacific region, Australian Wiradjuri writer, poet and academic Jeanine Leane, says, The Nightwatch is a wry and poignant satire. The current environmental crisis in the Pacific region is cleverly juxtaposed against the backdrop of a political coup in an extended metaphor that destabilises and unsettles Eurocentric values such as meritocracy, classism, consumerism, and Christianity. Characters come to life through quirky dialogue, using local language, as an embodied sense of place threads through the fragmented chaos of a country ravaged by extraction colonialism.’
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize, which is administered by the Commonwealth Foundation, is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 54 Member States.