The Trinidadian writer Kevin Jared Hosein has been awarded the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for his piece Passage, a tale of a forester undergoing a midlife crisis trying to prove himself in a quest in search of a 'mystery woman' in a dangerous mountain trail, written in a fresh English creole characteristic of the two-island nation.
The prize is awarded to the best short fiction story, between 2,000-5,000 words long, written by an author within the Commonwealth which encompasses all continents.
In the tale, the protagonist listens to a story by a friend of his who usually brags about his hiking skills and makes every one of his excursions like a “pilgrimage to Mecca.” But this particular story includes an encounter with a nearly naked woman in the wild, far from the established trail, which makes the protagonist curious.
“Stew’s hiking stories ain’t nothing too special to me, because I am a forester. Yessir, been employed at the Forestry Division, stationed at the scientific reserve, nineteen years strong. I specialize in plants. To any other man, a leaf is a leaf and a weed is a weed... Don’t get me wrong – I ain’t saying all of this to look smart – just that I know the wild better than most.”
The forester then decides to adventure himself to the mountain, finding a little more than he expected.
The choice of language, even though it makes the tale feel closer to Trinidadian culture, made Hosein, a biology professor, insecure about his tale, as there's still some discrimination in the literary world toward colloquial speech and writing.
“Originally I was afraid – I didn’t think people would understand the Creole,” Hosein told the Guardian.
But the story ended up being a thriving, interesting and controversial piece regarding several issues related to human emotions, civilization and the right to self-determination.
“It balances between formal language and demotic, ideas of civility and ferality, is tightly woven and suspenseful, beautifully and eerily atmospheric, and finally surprising,” said novelist Sarah Hall, part of the jury, ““It is, in essence, all a reader could want from the short story form.”
The award ceremony took place in Cyprus on Wednesday, with the presence of a variety of authors coming from all corners of Earth. Stories could be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, English, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili and Tamil.
This year, now the prize's seventh, Hosein's Passage was picked from 5,182 other stories from 48 countries, after being named the regional Caribbean winner. He won £5,000, while other finalists got £2,500.
“I wasn’t expecting it. First to be among this eclectic quintet of winning stories, all with central resonating themes of happiness, connection, isolation, freedom, repression, acceptance,” said Hosein after winning the prize. “Then to be chosen from that, I feel incredibly honored that this Trinidadian tale has traveled so far. I hope others in my region are inspired by this accomplishment.”
Hosein had previously said he based Passage on a true story he heard from a real-life forestry worker he met during a field trip with his students. The man, he said, would tell jokes to keep the students' interest when their attention drifted away.