2017 Prize Winner – Rafeif Ismail

Rafeif Ismail, winner of the 2017 Deborah Cass Prize for Writing (photograph – David Patston)

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 plays 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.

The Prize judges, writers Tony Ayres, Alice Pung and Christos Tsiolkas, noted the exceptionally high quality of a significant number of works entered in 2017, the first year the prize has been awarded nationally.

In its 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.’

We also congratulate our two runners-up: Sivashneel Sanjappa (Vic), for The Journey Home, and Jessie Tu (NSW), for Another Country’.

Read what Rafeif said about the value of the Deborah Cass Prize for Writing in an interview with Ellen O’Brien of Writers Victoria.

View images from the 2017 Deborah Cass Prize for Writing Award Ceremony, held at L2, 39 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 13 December. With thanks to guest speakers Nyadol Nyuon and Christos Tsiolkas, and photographer David Patston.

Rafeif Ismail worked with mentor Melissa Lucashenko  following her 2017 Deborah Cass Prize win.

Melissa Lucashenko was Rafeif Ismail’s mentor in 2018