We are delighted to tell you that the 2017 Deborah Cass Prize for Writing has been won by Rafeif Ismail, a 23-year old Perth woman from a Sudanese background, for her story, Almitra Amongst the Ghosts.
Rafeif, who travelled to Melbourne with her parents, Afeif and Nazik, to receive the award, was overjoyed at the win. In front of a packed audience of supporters of the Prize, Rafeif said she was honoured to receive the award, acknowledged the legacy of Deborah Cass in its creation, and said the prize could play a vital role in opening opportunities to new writers from migrant backgrounds.
Rafeif’s winning entry is part of a larger collection in development, String Theory, that follows three Sudanese refugee youths through their coming-of-age in Australia. The novel explores Sudanese storytelling techniques through western writing styles.
In their statement, the judging panel said, ‘In Almitra Amongst the Ghosts, Rafeif Ismail has invented a new style of poetry-prose that incorporates her home culture with English in a startling way. We were astonished by the voice and the power of the writing. She writes with skill and restraint and her work reads like poetry – each word is there for a purpose.’
Rafeif said, ‘I wish to highlight the myriad of experiences of refugee youths while exploring the differences and similarities between Sudanese and Australian cultures. I hope to write a work for third-culture youths, who are left out of the mainstream literature of their new home and not represented by the stories of their countries of origin.’
The Prize judges, writers Christos Tsiolkas, Alice Pung and Tony Ayres, noted the exceptionally high quality of a significant number of works entered in 2017, the first year the prize has been awarded nationally.
We also congratulate our two runners up: Sivashneel Sanjappa (Vic), for The Journey Home, and Jessie Tu (NSW), for Another Country.
Stay tuned for more information about our winner Rafeif and our runners-up Jessie and Sivashneel, including samples of the writing that so impressed our judges.
And thank you so much for your support. Without you, the Prize would not exist, let alone grow. You helped it go national this year, attracting a record 91 entries, up from 39 in 2016. You are directly helping many writers from migrant backgrounds find bigger audiences and tell powerful stories, and whether you were present at the Award ceremony last night or not, you were a vital part of the success of this year’s Prize.