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Tolas says short story win ‘amazing’

A 27-year-old Bahamian writer has been named the Caribbean winner of the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Alexia Tolas, whose short story “Granma’s Porch” was selected for the award, said she was in disbelief when she received the notification a few weeks ago that she was the regional winner for the literary prize.

“When I found out it was via email, of course, and it was in the middle of the school day so I started to scream,” said Tolas, who works as a literature teacher at Tambearly International School.

“My co-worker she was like, ‘Are you okay?’

“I am like, ‘I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. I just bucked my toe.’

“I was like I just bucked my toe on the furniture or something because I was like I can’t tell anybody, so it was amazing. When I got home, I did tell one person. I told my husband.”

“Granma’s Porch” is a Bahamian coming-of-age tale told through the eyes of a young Bahamian girl, according to Tolas.

She said the story explores several themes including emotional and sexual abuse, neglect and identity.

“It’s about a young girl just experiencing her first love but just the intricacies of what that means in a Caribbean context, specifically an island context,” Tolas said.

“It’s a lot more difficult for us, especially coming with experiences from our family, experiences in poverty, experiences in neglect and abuse. So, what do all of those experiences do in us making our decision, in us moving forward in adulthood?”

She added, “The protagonist is a young girl, so everything is coming from her eyes. She’s not the most reliable narrator. She doesn’t really understand how the world works, so every decision she makes, every theory she comes up with, is given to her by the people around her.”

Tolas said she decided to scrap her original submission for the literary prize just weeks before the submission deadline.

“I was working on a totally different piece for several months before [and] I decided this isn’t working and just a little under two weeks before the window was going to close, I had to come up with something different,” she said.

Tolas said some of her literary inspirations include Bahamian writers like Ian Strachan, Nicolette Bethel and Patricia Glinton-Meicholas.

“I’ve read all of their novels, all of their short stories and other people from the Caribbean too like Joanne Hillhouse from Antigua,” Tolas said.

“These are people I grew up with. I grew up on Caribbean stories, on Bahamian stories, and I think that that helped in [forming] this story.”

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from the Commonwealth.

It is the only prize in the world where entries can be submitted in Bengali, Chinese, English, Greek, Malay, Portuguese, Samoan, Swahili, Tamil and Turkish.

The international judging panel, chaired by British novelist, playwright and essayist Caryl Phillips, has chosen the five winning stories, all written by women, from a shortlist of 21, after 5,081 entries were submitted from 50 Commonwealth countries.

The five regional winners’ stories will be published online in the run-up to the announcement of the overall winner by the literary magazine Granta.

The overall winner will be announced in Québec City on July 9, 2019.

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