The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

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A few commenters on my post yesterday hadn’t heard of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, so I thought I’d give you a brief introduction. It is one of my favourite book awards, as I have loved all the winning books I’ve read.

The prize is awarded annually to the best book written by an author from one of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth. The judging is initially divided into four regions:  Africa, Europe and South Asia, The Caribbean and Canada, and South East Asia and the South Pacific. with a long list and then a short list being announced before the winner is finally revealed.

The 2010 short lists were:

Note: Book short listed for Best Book is on the left; Best First Book on the right.


Canada and the Caribbean

Europe and South Asia

South East Asia and South Pacific

Overall Winners 2010

Best Book:


Best First Book:

I have a copy of Under this Unbroken Sky here and hope to read it at sometime soon. The rest of the books appeal to me too, so as soon as I spot copies in my local library I’ll be checking them out.

Previous winners of Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

1987 – Olive Senior, Summer Lightning

1988 – Festus Iyayi, Heroes

1989 – Janet Frame, The Carpathians

1990 – Mordecai Richler, Solomon Gursky Was Here

1991 – David Malouf, The Great World

1992 – Rohinton Mistry, Such a Long Journey

1993 – Alex Miller, The Ancestor Game

1994 – Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy

1995 – Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

1996 – Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance

1997 – Earl Lovelace, Salt

1998 – Peter Carey, Jack Maggs

1999 – Murray Bail, Eucalyptus

2000 – John Maxwell Coetzee, Disgrace

2001 – Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang

2002 – Richard Flanagan, Gould’s Book of Fish  

2003 – Austin Clarke, The Polished Hoe

2004 – Caryl Phillips, A Distant Shore

2005 – Andrea Levy, Small Island stars4

2006 – Kate Grenville, The Secret River 

2007 – Lloyd Jones, Mister Pip  

2008 – Lawrence Hill, The Book of Negroes 

2009 – Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap stars4

2010 – Rana Dasgupta, Solo stars4

I have read seven CWP winning books and loved them all. Creating this list made me realise how much I have enjoyed books from this prize and so I’m going to try to read a few more in the future. I already have a copy of The Book of Negroes, so will try to fit it in next month.

Do you follow the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize?

Are there any books that you particularly recommend?

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  1. Thanks for the info, Jackie! I had already googled it yesterday. ;)

    I haven’t read any of the 2010 winners, I have however read three of the previous years’ ones: ‘Jack Maggs’ by Peter Carey, ‘Mister Pip’ by Lloyd Jones and ‘The Secret River’ by Kate Grenville and I was impressed by all of them. Maybe I should start reading the other winners as well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Susi, I think reading a few more is a good idea. I enjoyed Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey, but haven’t read any of his other books yet. I own the Kelly Gang, so will probably read that one first. I haven’t heard much about Jack Maggs, so it is good to know that you enjoyed that one.

      1. Well, ‘Jack Maggs’ is a rewriting of ‘Great Expectations’ by Dickens and even though it can stand on its own two feet, it certainly loses some of its appeal if it isn’t read as a rewriting. But that might just be me because I enjoy post-colonial rewritings immensely.

        1. Jackie says:

          Susi, I’m not sure I’ve read a re-writing before, but I did enjoy Great Expectations – you’ve intrigued me!

  2. I haven’t followed this prize, but should as all the short-listed books sound wonderful.

    I have read the winner ‘Solo’ though and I adored it. It’s set in Bulgaria and has themes of music and chemistry (both physical and emotional) running through it and the prose is dazzling.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I need to get hold of a copy of Solo! I was initially put off by the reference to music, as I’m not normally a fan of books that are ‘musical’, but I need to put aside my preconceptions and give it a try.

      1. In this case, I felt that the music gave the book its soul, but don’t let that put you off. The view of 20thC Bulgarian history was fascinating and the nationalising of chemical industry etc!

        That’s probably even more off-putting as it sounds, but really it was a brilliant book!

        1. Jackie says:

          Annabel, Don’t worry – I trust your chemical industry recommendations! Like the sound of Bulgarian history too…
          I checked to see if my library has a copy, which it unfortunately doesn’t :-( but hopefully it will turn up there soon.

  3. Mome Rath says:

    You’re a wealth of information! This is another award list I think I’ll find myself trying to work off — especially since I’ve heard of many of them, but haven’t read any of them. Coetzee’s Disgrace is already on my TBR list for this spring, so that’s a start. The fact that you’ve loved every one of the books on this list you’ve read so far speaks well for this award!

    1. Jackie says:

      Mome Rath, Thanks! I hope you enjoy your exploration into a new prize list.

  4. Sandy says:

    This award has been completely off my radar, until I received that “Read, Recommend, Review” book that has all the lists in it. When I read through the list for this award, I remembered some of your reviews. You are THE place to go for anything award-ish!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I keep thinking I should buy a copy of that “Read, Recommend, Review” Not sure it is in the UK yet, but when it is I’ll be interested to flick through and see if it is worth me buying.

  5. Stujallen says:

    this is a great prize ,i love how it shows the diversity of the commonwealth ,there has been some great winners jackie over the years ,carey is one of my favourite writers

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, Glad to hear you are a CWP fan too!

  6. lilly says:

    Thanks so much for talking about this awesome prize. It’s yet another one I didn’t know about that you introduced me to and it is now bookmarked for future reference.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lilly, I hope you find some wonderful reads from the list.

  7. Bina says:

    Thanks for posting about this prize! These books all sound really great, I´ll look for them next time I´m going to the library.

    1. Jackie says:

      Bina, I’m sure that most of the past winners will be available and hope you have more luck with the 2010 short list in your library that I did!

  8. mee says:

    I’ve read three winners (the same as you have: The Slap, Disgrace, A Fine Balance–recently finished, review soon). I’m excited to see In Other Rooms Other Wonders there since it’s also nominated for Pulitzer. Just this afternoon I also just realized that Rohinton Mistry won the prize earlier before A Fine Balance. I need to read more winners from this prize! I’ve been thinking to read The Secret River for a while now.

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, The Secret River is a very good book. In Other Rooms is a collection of short stories so I’m in no rush to read that, but I hope you enjoy it.

  9. As one of yesterday’s ignorant commentors, thank you so much for the list! This year’s nominees all look quite intriguing and I recognize some old favourites among the list of past winners.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, LOL! It is nice to be of use.

  10. Shannon says:

    I had heard of the prize, but not really followed it. Thanks for the winner’s list.

    And you must read Lawrence Hill’s “The Book of Negroes” (for people in the US, it’s titled Someone Knows My Name). It was a great book and I can’t recommend it enough.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, Thanks for pointing out the US title change – I wasn’t aware of that. It is annoying when they change the titles like that – I get so confused :-(

      I hope to read The Book of Negroes next month. It looks like the sort of book I love – a nice juicy chunkster!

  11. Steph says:

    I really want to read Galore, even though it didn’t win! I read about it back when I was in Toronto over Christmas, and ever since then, it’s been on my TBR list! I just need to find myself a copy! ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, Galore does look good, but it isn’t published in the UK yet. I’ll have to wait patiently! I hope you can read it soon and let me know if it is worth getting a copy.

  12. Sakura says:

    I’m a big fan of the CWP and have read five titles (Richler, Coetzee, Seth, Mistry and de Bernieres) although I didn’t realise they had won the CWP then (except for Mistry). I thought Mistry’s A Fine Balance was one of the most hard-hitting and brilliant books I’ve read, although I can’t say that I loved it because it left me depressed for weeks. But I definitely recommend it. I’m looking forward to reading Dasgupta’s Solo (I’ve seen a couple of mixed reviews). Thanks for putting up the list – it’s nice to have it all in one place!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sakura, A Fine Balance is my favourite book, so I agree with you! I don’t think I knew that most of them were CWP winners when I read them, but I will be on the look out for the other winners now.

  13. Amy says:

    I haven’t read many of these books but I want to read them all! I love the award as it brings to attention so many wonderful books. Thanks for posting the list!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I’m pleased you found it useful!

  14. Rebecca says:

    I had heard of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize but had not seen the breakdown of categories before. Do you know how they decided to put South Asia with Europe instead of with South East Asia and South Pacific? Is it the number of commonwealths?

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, I’m sorry I have no idea! I assume it is something to do with the number of countries or submissions, but I couldn’t find any answers on the CWP site.

  15. The Book Of Negroes is SUCH a good book!!

    1. Jackie says:

      Monica, That is good to hear – I look forward to starting it!

  16. Jenners says:

    I had never heard of this prize (but I’m not much on awards of any kind). But I do remember once having to pick a book randomly for a reading challenge and almost landing on “A Suitable Boy” — which is like 6 inches wide! I was two books away from it! (And it probably would have been better than the book I got, which I didn’t even finish because it was so bad.)

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeners, LOL! I have A Suitable Boy here, but the length is putting me off too. I’m hoping to get round to it later this year, but it does require some planning to manage a book that long.

  17. Satu says:

    I had heard the name of this award but had no idea what it was all about, so thank you for this info! I might be a potential fan too. All the shortlisted books look tempting, and I’ve loved the three winners I’ve read so far: A Fine Balance, Eucalyptus and Disgrace.

    I’m a bit surprised but happy to see Eucalyptus in winners list. I think it is a nice and charming book. The plot is like one from an old fairy tale written in a more modern form – but not too modern!

    1. Jackie says:

      Satu, I haven’t heard of Eucalyptus other than by its title on this list. It is nice to know a bit more about it. I’m not sure it really appeals, but I think I might try to read all the winners of this prize at some point, so I’m sure I’ll get to it one day.

  18. Mystica says:

    Thank you for the post which also highlights some books which were unknown to me!

    1. Jackie says:

      Mystica, My pleasure!

  19. Andreea says:

    Thanks for the info, Jackie. I didn’t know about it. I am off to check out these books.

    1. Jackie says:

      Andreea, I hope that you find some that you enjoy!

  20. I’m not actively following the prize but I think it’s one that I’ll pay closer attention to in the future. I’ve read five of the winners and have another on-hand (The Book of Negroes) as well as one from this year’s shortlist (In Other Rooms, Other Wonders).

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, Let’s hope we both enjoy the Book of Negroes!

  21. Thanks for this post! I wasn’t aware of this award before, but it will definitely be on my radar from now on! The only problem now is that American libraries and bookstores don’t have these books yet, so I’ll have to order them!!!

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebekah, Don’t worry – half aren’t published in the UK yet either! It is quite nice that they are all published in different countries around the world – it means none are available to all, so we can all experience that longing for a book we can’t yet have!

  22. tea lady says:

    Those books all LOOK gorgeous, don’t they? I’ve only read True History of the Kelly Gang from the list but recommend it heartily all the same.

    1. Jackie says:

      tea lady, It is good to hear that you enjoyed the Kelly Gang – I hope I do too!

  23. LizF says:

    Ashamed to say that I have only read A Small Island and Captain Corelli although I have copies of five of the others, all unread, on my shelves and have been seriously considering buying The Book of Negroes because it looks fascinating.
    I really hate the way publishers change the names of books, not just between countries but even between editions for no good reason. It’s really annoying when you request books from a library thinking that you haven’t read them only to discover that you already have but under another name!

    1. Jackie says:

      LizF, Sorry for not replying earlier – I have no idea how I missed these comments. I’ve just started reading The Book of Negroes and I’m loving it. I share your annoyance on name changes – I have nearly bought the same book in the past :-(

  24. Kathleen says:

    I have to confess my ignorance as well. I had also never heard of the Commonwealth prize but appreciate learning about it via your blog. I was interested to see Mistry on the past winners list for a book I’ve not heard of before. I love A Fine Balance and have Family Matters checked out of my library right now and am hoping to read it before it has to be returned.

  25. This looks like a nice, eclectic list. I’m really wanting to read the Michael Crummey as I keep hearing about him in these parts but have never got around to reading.

  26. Dr Nnamdi Anumihe says:

    Thanks for the information on Commonwealth writersprize, but why didnt you include Chimamanda Adichie”s Purple hibiscus that won the prize recently?
    when willthe 2011 entry forms be published? Glad to get your reply.

    thanks again
    Dr NC Anumihe

    1. Jackie says:

      Dr Nnamdi Anumihe,
      Purple Hibiscus won the Commonwealth Best First Book of the Year: 2005. This is the award given to the best book by a debut novelist. The list in my post is for the overall winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize each year, which was Small Island in 2005.

      Details of the 2011 prize haven’t been announced yet, but they should be added to this website:

      in the next few weeks.

      I hope that helps :-)


  1. Solo by Rana Dasgupta – Farm Lane Books Blog
  2. 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize shortlists announced – Farm Lane Books Blog

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