The shortlist for this year’s 4thWrite prize, open to unpublished writers of colour in the UK and Ireland, ranges from civil rights-era Kansas to contemporary Japan, and from office politics to a dystopian fantasy about the politics of reproduction.
The short story prize, run by publisher 4th Estate in association with the Guardian, aims to find the literary stars of tomorrow. The six-strong shortlist is headed by Bleach by Liberty Martin, in which a young Black woman in 60s America describes the day she entered a white beauty contest, with shocking results. Judge Angelique Tran Van Sang, a literary agent, described it as “a triumph of voice – darkly humorous, it gives the historical narrative a contemporary flavour that enlivens and energises”. The extravagantly funny My Last Real Housewife by Melissa Gitari, the monologue of a wealthy influencer furiously attacking a former friend, was also praised for a voice that leaps off the page.
Rosie Chen’s Micromanageress is a sharp satire on precarious arts jobs and the culture of internships, as navigated by a young Asian woman, while Back of House by Esther Okorocha describes an alternative world in which babies are conceived and born at “Mating Clinics”, where the food is unusual and the father’s days are numbered. It’s an impressive feat of imagination that gleefully challenges our assumptions about motherhood.
In the clever, teasing The Man Who Cried at the Sky by Benjamin Toma James, a Japanese man hires himself out by the hour as a passive, non-judgmental companion, but finds the calm surface of his life disturbed by a western client. Finally, The Good Son by Tian Yi sees a man look back on his childhood, and the friend who seemed to have strange powers. Judge Helena Lee, journalist and founder of East Side Voices cultural salon, said the story “captures the state of being a British east Asian and the nuances that come from being different within the diaspora beautifully … it deftly explores those barriers of expectation that arise from being children of immigrants, mixed with a sprinkling of the otherworldly.”
Chair of judges Kishani Widyaratna, publishing director at 4th Estate, hailed “a wonderful shortlist that is striking for the range and distinctiveness of the stories and for the depth of feeling summoned by these vibrant characters”. Also on the judging panel were Bolu Babalola, author of Honey & Spice, who was shortlisted for the inaugural prize in 2016; Cecile Pin, whose debut novel Wandering Souls was longlisted for the Women’s prize; and me.
Several authors nominated for the prize over its seven-year history have gone on to publishing success, including Guy Gunaratne, Kandace Siobhan Walker, Kit Fan and Gurnaik Johal. This year’s winner, to be announced on 23 October, will receive £1,000, a one-day publishing workshop at 4th Estate and publication of their story on the Guardian website.
Details on how to enter the 2024 prize will be announced on the 4th Estate website early next year.