Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize 2021

Paige Cowan-Hall has been announced as the WINNER of the 2021 Desperate Literature Short
Fiction Prize for the story “Ohenemaa”, in which colonial oppression is explored
through a subtle power play between an ‘overseer’ and an Obeah (spiritual healer).

This year’s runners-up are Nick Mulgrew (for the story “Section 22”) and Isha Karki (for “An Account of the [War Heroines] of the First Independence War [by An Unnamed Soldier]”).

Announcing this year’s shortlist selection

| A Certain Degree of Ownership | Jan Carson
| After Western Deep | Jack Gain
 | An Account of the [War Heroines] of the First Independence War [by An Unnamed Soldier] | Isha Karki (RUNNER-UP)
| Cables | Phillippa Finkemeyer
| Gannin Hyem | Victoria Manifold
| Ohenemaa | Paige Cowan-Hall (WINNER)
| Raise, or How to Break Free of the Ground, or The Lakeland Dialect for
‘Slippery’ is ‘Slape’ and to Form it in the Mouth Requires an Act of Falling | Katie Hale (WINNER OF THE GEORGIA WRITERS’ HOUSE PRIZE)
| Section 22 | Nick Mulgrew (RUNNER-UP)
| Skullseeds | Samuel Glyn
| Spread | Campbell Andersen
| Two Different Decembers | Erin Scudder

The aim of the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize is both to celebrate the best of new short fiction and to give winners the most visibility possible for their writing. That’s why we’ve teamed up with fourteen different literary and artistic institutions to offer not only a cash prize and writing retreats but to ensure that all our shortlisters have the opportunity to be published in multiple print and online journals, have their work put in front of literary agents and perform in multiple countries.

This year we’ve added more to the kitty:
an increased winners package, a second residency,
a spot at the Georgia literary festival
and more sponsored entries.

You’ll obviously still get published in a limited edition book collecting the shortlisted pieces.

Lastly, thank you to everybody who has entered and is interested in entering our prize.
The proceeds are the reason we survived 2020 and continue to survive Covid-19!

The Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize adheres to CLMP’s Contest Code of Ethics


First Prize:

– €1500
– A week’s residency at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation
– A consultation with a Literary Agent from Andrew Nurnberg Associates

Runner-up Prizes:

– €750 (two prizes available)

All Shortlisted Writers:

– Will be published in a truly smashing, limited edition book published by ourselves truly and launched at the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize Salon, Madrid
– Publication with one of our partner journals: Helter Skelter, The London Magazine, Open Pen, Prototype, Hotel, Gorse, Kill Your Darlings, Minor Literature[s] and The Second Shelf  (women only)
– Participation in Desperate Literature Prize Salons (Salons, no less) at Desperate Literature, Madrid; Burley Fisher, London; Typewronger Books, Edinburgh; and The Second Shelf, London (women only)†

†Covid-dependent, please read
our eligibility and conditions for more details.


One Shortlisted Winner: 

– Will be offered a spot at the Tbilisi International Festival of Literature, along with a 10 day residency at the Writers’ House of Georgia for a 10-day residency. A travel stipend of €400 will be provided


*before entering, please read our eligibility and conditions to see how the prize is funded, prize details, entry conditions and to assess your eligibility.


The Civitella Ranieri Foundation,

‘It’s hard to think of a more inspiring place than Civitella – a medieval castle turned artists residency, and a rare place that is absolutely international in its cultural outlook, yet rooted in the Umbrian countryside and history.’

– Ed Cottrell, winner of the 2018 Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize


The Georgia Writers’ House
& Tbilisi International Festival of Literature

‘Lightning spat over the Caucasus as my flight came in to land here late at night, lightning that became street-light reflected off a fast-moving river, that became lanterns in ancient gardens, candles over wine, and I couldn’t help thinking, couldn’t help knowing, for once in my life, that all the crackling stuff which usually ran around my head as I wrote was now rolling out in real life. This is the thing I remember from Tbilisi. Like something imagined had come to life, and we were all there imagining it together. I hope I can do it again one day; until then I can only write.’

– DBC Pierre, participant in the TIFL 2016



Pdf editions of all previous shortlists are available, and the 2020 print anthology is available from February 2021 (delayed due to Covid-19)

– The 2018 – 2020 pdf whammy: €5 (Fully refunded upon entering the prize)
– The 2021 pdf edition: €2.50 (Fully refunded upon entering the prize)
– The 2021 print edition: €10 (€2.50 refunded upon entering the prize)

The print edition is a limited edition risograph book and you can read Rachel Cusk’s thoughts on the book just below!

You can also read a selection of shortlisted works from 2018 – 2020 on our ‘Previous Winners’ page.




April 15th 30th 2021
23:59 GMT + 1 (Madrid vermouth hour)


June 6th 2021

Shortlist selection deadline extended due to high volume of entries arriving last minute.
We will announce our long list June 1st. 
The announcement will be made on this page and all entrants will be contacted by email.


June 15th 2021 (all shortlisters notified)


€20 for the first entry
€10 for every further entry
(max. of five entries per person)


We are happy to announce a sponsored entries scheme for under represented writers or writers suffering from financial hardship.

10 spaces available for full-fee sponsorship through Desperate Literature
30 spaces available for half-fee sponsorship through Desperate Literature

Deadline for application for a sponsored place:
April 1st 2021


Applications will be judged on a case by case basis by a member of the team with the support of Spread the Word UK. A further package of sponsored entries have been offered to the following organisations: Spread the Word (10), 3 of Cups Press (5), Cipher Press (5), The Georgia Writers’ House of Georgia (3).

For details of how these places are funded and how to apply, please see our eligibility & conditions page.


– The Desperate Literature Short Fiction prize is awarded to an original work of fiction under 2000 words
– Translations are accepted, but the prize is awarded to the original writer, not the translator
– Submissions are anonymous
– Stories should be submitted in .pdf format upon payment of the entry fee, without mention of the author or translator name within the document.




From 2019 winner, Francesca Reece

‘The Desperate Literature Prize changed everything for me. It gave me a platform to get my writing out there and to meet so many interesting, talented people. The prizes are just ridiculously good but the whole experience – the events in Madrid, Paris and London, getting published in Eleven Stories, all of it – was unforgettable.’

After winning the Desperate Literature Short Prize for Short Fiction, Francesca was signed to Andrew Nurnberg Associates. Her first novel, Voyeur, is forthcoming with Tinder Press in 2021.

From 2018 winner, Ed Cottrell

‘It really is a fairytale literary prize, and I am immensely proud to be the inaugural winner.’

On the 2020 shortlist selection:

‘I thoroughly enjoyed reading these submissions, which surprised me with their honest poise, their integrity, and their understated adherence to the values of literature. In the hands of some of these writers, the story form was brought to bear on the modern scene in new and astute ways.’
Rachel Cusk

‘I was bowled over by the power, inquiry, and humour of these stories. They shine brightly in the mind after reading.’
  Niven Govinden

Click here to read quotes from other winners, literary agents, previous judges Claire-Louise Bennett and Eley Williams, and publishers. 




The first round of the Desperate Literature Short Fiction Prize will be judged by the Desperate Literature team: Terry Craven, Charlotte Delattre, Robert Greer and Emily Westmoreland. As soon as we have a shortlist, we’ll hand it over to our shortlist judges who will then pick the winner and runners-up.

Photo credit: Krystal Griffiths

Ottessa Moshfegh is a fiction writer from New England. Eileen, her first novel, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Booker Prize, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction. My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Death in Her Hands, her second and third novels, were New York Times bestsellers. She is also the author of the short story collection Homesick for Another World and a novella, McGlue. She lives in southern California.

Photo credit: Dan Lepard

Derek Owusu is an award winning writer and poet from North London. He discovered his passion for literature late in life while studying exercise science at university. Unable to afford a change of degree, he began reading voraciously and sneaking into English Literature lectures at the University of Manchester.

Owusu has written poetry and short stories for the BBC and ITV and regularly features on literary prize judging panels. In 2019, Owusu collated, edited and contributed to SAFE: On Black British Men Reclaiming Space, an anthology exploring the experiences of Black men in Britain. His first novel, That Reminds Me, and the first work of fiction to be published by Stormzy’s Merky Books imprint, won the Desmond Elliot Prize for debut fiction, the judges praising it as a ‘transcendent work of fiction.’ In 2020, Owusu was one of the founding members of the Black Writers’ Guild, whose formation was due to the lack of representation and inequalities that exist within mainstream publishing in the UK.


Isabel Waidner is a writer and critical theorist. Their novels We Are Made of Diamond Stuff (2019) and Gaudy Bauble (2017) were shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize, the Republic of Consciousness Prize (2x), and won the Internationale Literaturpreis. Waidner is a co-founder of the event series Queers Read This at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), and their next novel Sterling Karat Gold is forthcoming with Peninsula Press in 2021.