Sanjana Thakur

Sanjana Thakur wins 2024 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Sanjana Thakur has been announced as the overall winner of the 2024 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The 26-year-old author from Mumbai triumphed over 7,359 entrants from around the globe to secure the prestigious £5,000 prize. The announcement was made during a virtual award ceremony hosted by New Zealand’s former Poet Laureate, Dr. Selina Tusitala Marsh. The event featured the other four regional winners—Reena Usha Rungoo, Julie Bouchard, Portia Subran and Pip Robertson—who shared insights into their creative processes and read excerpts from their acclaimed stories.

Sanjana’s winning entry, titled “Aishwarya Rai,” draws inspiration from the iconic Bollywood actress and reimagines the adoption narrative in a unique and compelling way. The story centres on Avni, a young woman navigating her options among potential mothers in a local shelter. The narrative cleverly critiques societal beauty standards and the pressures of modern urban life through Avni’s interactions with these women, one of whom bears a striking resemblance to the real-life Aishwarya Rai.

The renowned literary magazine Granta has published all the regional winning stories of the 2024 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, including “Aishwarya Rai”. Additionally, the five stories are available in a special print collection from Paper + Ink.

In her acceptance speech, Thakur expressed her deep gratitude and reflected on her personal journey: “I’ve spent 10 out of 26 years living in countries not my own. India, where I’m from, is simultaneously strange and familiar, accepting and rejecting. Writing stories is a way for me to accept that Mumbai is a city I will long for even when I am in it; it is a way to remake ‘place’ in my mind. I am so thankful to the judges, my fellow shortlisted writers, and the other regional winners for writing beautiful stories. For my strange story—about mothers and daughters, about bodies, beauty standards, and Bombay street food—to find such a global audience is thrilling. I cannot express how wholly honoured I am to be the recipient of this incredible prize. I hope I continue writing stories that people want to read. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, chair of the 2024 Judging Panel, praised Sanjana’s work, stating, “The short story form favours the brave and the bold writer. In ‘Aishwarya Rai’, Sanjana Thakur employs brutal irony, sarcasm, cynicism, and wry humour packaged in tight prose and stanza-like paragraphs to confront us with the fracturing of family and the self as a result of modern urban existence. No matter which city you live in, you’ll recognize the stress-induced conditions like insomnia, restless leg, panic attacks, and an obsession with a celebrity kind of beauty, in this case, Bollywood. Thakur pushes this stinging absurdity as far as to suggest hiring mothers to replace inadequate ones. Rarely do we see satire pulled off so effortlessly.”

O Thiam Chin, judge for the Asia region, added, “The power of Sanjana Thakur’s story reminds us that the best of fiction peels back the hard skin of life and grants us the privilege of feeling every flutter and pulse of its raw, quivering heart.”

For those who missed the event, the 2024 prize ceremony is available to watch online.

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