Yiming Ma’s ‘deeply melancholy’ tale wins BAME short story prize

Swimmer of Yangtze beat 300 others to win the £1,000 award set up by the Guardian and 4th Estate in 2015.

Chinese Canadian writer Yiming Mahas won the Guardian 4th Estate short story prize. Ma’s Swimmer of Yangtze provides a brutal insight into the rise and fall of community heroes.

The story follows the disabled son of a tailor, a boy from a humble, nameless village near Wuhan in Cultural Revolution-era China, as he becomes an unlikely Paralympian hero. Told from the perspective of a village elder, it leads the reader on a journey of hope and sorrow.

Ma beat 300 other writers to win. Judge and culture associate editor for the Guardian, Claire Armitsteadpraised Ma’s “impressively controlled and deeply melancholy story of an isolated rural community who look on in bemusement as one of their number is snatched from their midst to become an international sporting hero in an event that is beyond comprehension.”

Ma’s stirring work was the highlight among a shortlist of six stories that tackled contemporary issues with full force, including Varaidzo’s Bus Stop, an exploration of identity, sexuality and gender and Savannah Burney’s Spam, a humorous take on an unlikely encounter between a cynical B&B owner and Grenfell tower victims.

Anna Kelly, 4th Estate commissioning editor and chair of the judging panel, praised all of the entrants. “I’m looking forward to seeing their careers progress over the coming years,” she said. “I expect to see many of the shortlisted and longlisted writers signing with agents very soon.”

The Guardian 4th Estate short story prize was set up in 2015, after the Writing the Future report found a severe lack of diversity in the UK publishing industry. Publishers have attempted to address the issue, but there continues to be a lack of BAME voices in both books and the industry itself: a study in July found that only 1% of all children’s books contain a BAME main character, while another study found the number of BAME authors writing for young adults had declined over the last decade, despite diversity initiatives.

In a ceremony on Wednesday night, Ma received £1,000 and an exclusive one-day publishing workshop at 4th Estate. Swimmer of the Yangtze can be read below.

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First Published 12.09.18: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/12/yiming-mas-deeply-melancholy-tale-wins-bame-short-story-prize

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