For the fourth instalment of our annual competition, The Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story, we called on African short story writers to explore the many faces of religion in today’s world.

With religion as a theme, we were looking for stories that would use faith as a strategy to investigate all that drives our daily interactions; stories that would provide explanations on how religion, spirituality, belief help us make meaning of our contemporary realities.

The submissions we received impressed our readers and judges with the range of viewpoints, especially in several narratives where authors put religion under the scope without limiting their conception of faith to one religious belief or the church scandals that have become all too common in recent times. Eleven stories were longlisted for volume 4 of The Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story, out of which our panel of judges selected the winning story and two runners-up stories.

We’re happy to announce that Nigerian writer Ope Adedeji is the 2018 winner for The Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story competition.

Kenyan writer Troy Onyango and South African writer Christine Coates take second place and third place, respectively.

First place

Omo Omo Omo by Ope Adedeji

Ope Adedeji

For her well-crafted tale of frustrated love between two young women, Child and Sweetness, Ope Adedeji won the judges over with her refreshing use of African spirituality, frank sexuality and queer-positive escapades:

Beautiful, sweet/bittersweet story. Excellently written. Omo Omo Omo deals with a very important issue at the heart of religion nowadays, homosexuality. Deals with another very important issue that’s being explored by writers nowadays, trauma.

Tendai Mwanaka, judge

More than a coming-of-age story, Adedeji’s characters are adulting without having discarded the unbearable weight of childhood trauma, whether it’s the shadows following Child on her way back to her house or her grandmother’s strong rejection of her desire for Sweetness.

The day Kay died, Sweetness and I sat on the soakaway in the yard in our grandmother’s house while the grownups argued about what to do: whether to take her to the hospital or wait. I held Sweetness’s moist hands in mine as we listened to their raised voices bounce around the walls in the house. A scream shot through the sky, silencing them and at the end of the scream was silence that was just silence. It was not loud or harsh; it was soft and tepid like the full moon, and it fell on us and on the house, causing us to grow goosebumps. A few minutes later, when the sky opened to release black and silver raindrops, Mama called us in to tell us what had happened.

excerpt from “Omo Omo Omo”

Second place

Peregrination by Troy Onyango

Troy Onyango

Troy Onyango’s Peregrination, about one religious community still hoping for its messiah’s return, despite the slow terror of repeated government encroachments on its autonomy, impressed with its unhurried images and strong narration:

This story is an entire research paper about the function of religion and the different perspectives on religion throughout time, with an underlying theme of “duped”.

Malebo Sephodi, judge

Told from a child’s viewpoint, Peregrination at times reads like a Shirley Jackson mystery – not until its ending will readers know who the real messiah is and why soldiers accompany him on his return.

The lorry tears through the horizon and the children run towards
us crying, yelling, scared, terrified. We pick them up from the soil
and tell them to get into the house and not open the doors. We pick
anything we can lay our hands on. We grip the handles and we prepare
for war. The lorry arrives and halts right outside our houses.
We huddle close to each other and feed off each other’s defiance. We
pray. We gather our strength. We peek through the dust. The lorry
only has about ten soldiers. We can take on these, we tell ourselves.

excerpt from “Peregrination”

Third place

The Lightness of Lies by Christine Coates

Christine Coates

Christine Coates’ The Lightness of Lies, about a widow who sees more than a foreign(ers’) invasion in the robed newcomers who descend on her Free State dorpie, is animated by its narrator’s patient eye for detail; even when the new residents stir animosity in the townsfolk, Coates tends to the drama of small town life with the same dedication and love her protagonist lavishes on her garden:

The descriptions are vivid and exciting. Euphemistically tackling religious issues irreverently, you see all sorts of religious facets explored without really naming them. The language is very good too.

Tendai Mwanaka, judge

A slow-burning thriller, the weight of the lies central to Coates’ story has less to do with the consequences of falsehoods but the strong appeal of half-truths – what the eye perceives can often magnify what it refuses to see.

After Japie died, they didn’t want his coffin inside the church and they wouldn’t bury him in the begrafplaas because he committed suicide. So I had him cremated privately and I scattered his ashes on the Knorsberg. That way people would breathe him in, and then perhaps they’d understand what it is to be different.

excerpt from “The Lightness of Lies”

Black Letter Media congratulates the three winners whose stories moved us with their sincerity and ambition, further encouragement that African writers keep finding new ways of telling old tales and perhaps need all the help they can get to find their readers. The author of the winning short story will receive R5000. While authors for the second and third runner-up stories will receive R1500 and R500 respectively.

The winning stories, together with the rest of the longlisted stories, are to appear in a forthcoming anthology, The Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story (vol 4), soon to be published.

Previous winners of this competition are Obinna Udenwe for his story Men Are Fools (2016) and Mary Ononokpono for her story Firewater (2017).

Look out for the cover reveal and announcement of the launch date on this blog and on our social media feed.