2016 prize winner – Jean Bachoura

A story by Syrian-born actor and writer Jean Bachoura is the winner of the 2016 Deborah Cass Writing Prize.

Night Falls, an extract from a larger work in progress, tells a gripping story of a young Syrian-Australian, Eyad, returning to war-destroyed Damascus to meet his mother and revisit his childhood home.

Thanks to David Patston for the photos

Runners-up are Edita Mujkic for her story about leaving Sarajevo under bombardment, ‘From There to Here’, Linda Judge’s Latvian journey ‘Mother Tongue’and Katerina Craven’s opening two chapters of her first young adult novel, ‘Our Darkest Places’.

The Prize, run in partnership with Writers Victoria, awards $3000 to a writer of migrant background whose work reflects at least in part on the migrant experience.

It also provides a year-long mentorship from an established writer and introduction to a mainstream publisher.

The judges, Alice Pung, Christos Tsolkias and Tony Ayres, singled out Night Falls for its compelling story, lively writing and complex, vivid characters — especially the narrator’s mother.

“The writing had the ability to surprise you and give an insight into an unknown world,” said Christos Tsolkias.

Alice Pung also praised Our Darkest Places for its humour and three-dimensional characters, while Tony Ayres commended From There to Here for its strong sense of place and pacy, high-stakes plot.

Jean Bachoura, aged 27, said he was delighted.”Too often, mainstream coverage of long term geo-political conflict dehumanizes its victims. This is directly linked to the recent rise in racism and hate speech. Writing, however, can be a powerful vehicle for shaping our shared understanding and building empathy. For me, the Deborah Cass Prize is an opportunity to amplify unheard voices and to break down this dehumanising effect.”

Of the entry, he says: “This work, which began as a film script then turned into theatre and finally prose, is still in its infancy. I think it would benefit immensely from having an experienced writer shape its development.”

The Prize honours the life and work of the late legal academic and occasional writer, Deborah Cass. The granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, Deborah became a prize-winning professor of International Law at the London School of Economics before her death to cancer in 2013.

Jean received his award at a public event on Tuesday 13 December, 6pm, at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, 404 George Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne.

You can read the winning entry here. See also the Guardian story We can fight hate racism by telling stories about migrants

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