The Deborah Cass Prize needs you!

unnamedThanks to you and our other supporters, the Deborah Cass Prize for Writing went national for the first time last year. The Prize expanded to reach writers, including the 2017 winner, Rafeif Ismail, who lives in Perth, and readers across Australia.

Not only have you helped maintain the Prize, you’ve helped it touch the lives of more people than ever before.

But to keep the Prize going, we need your support again. Could you please donate to help the Prize continue?

Your gift by 30th June will go towards a cash prize, mentoring for the 2018 winner, and the costs of administering the award Australia-wide. For the first time, we’re also working towards the introduction of a runners-up prize, in order to recognise the rising number of high-quality entries since we created a national award last year.

Your gift to the Deborah Cass Prize will help support writers from a migrant background develop their voices and be heard more loudly and widely.

People like Rafeif Ismail (born in Sudan – pictured top left), Sivashneel Sanjappa (from a Fijian Indian background – below left) and Jessie Tu (from a Taiwanese background – below right) who were our winner and runners-up respectively in the 2017 Prize.
Last year was everything we hoped the Prize would be. We hope that our emails and events over the past 12 months have kept you up to date with the achievements you’ve helped make possible. But now we need to raise $14,000 to keep this year’s Prize going and all of this must come from our friends in the community, like you.

Please make your tax-deductible donation today, here. By donating to keep the Deborah Cass Prize for Writing going, you’ll be helping to promote diversity in writing and, through that, bringing new voices into the mainstream.


Rafeif Ismail announced as 2017 winner

unnamedWe 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.

You can read the prize-winning story in Mascara Literary Review.

Shortlist 2017

The Deborah Cass Prize Committee is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2017 prize. This is the first year the prize has gone national, which is reflected in a doubling of the number of entries. This year we had 91 submissions from all parts of Australia. The entries were of high quality and reflected a wide diversity of the migrant experience. Those selected for the shortlist were stories that were written in an engaging and interesting style, while at the same time they offered a fresh perspective on the migrant experience.

Shortlist in alphabetical order

Lur Alghurabi Letters from the Grave (Iraq)

Antonella Fedele The Good Immigrants (Italy)

Rafeif Ismail Almitra Amongst the Ghosts (Sudan)

Mary Manias The Olive Tree (Greece)

Alexandra Mavridis Grecian Silhouettes (Greece)

Jenni Mazaraki Koukla (Greece)

Sivashneel Sanjappa The Journey Home (Fiji)

Fatima Sehbai Mithu and Sakina (Pakistan)

Jessie Tu Another Country (Taiwan)

Yen-Rong Wong Perfect (Malaysian-Chinese)

These entries will now be assessed by our judges and an announcement will be made of the winner on 13 December.

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

Testimonial from Moreno Giovanoni


The Deborah Cass Prize for Writing brought me three main benefits:

  1. Three distinguished judges – Alice Pung, Christos Tsiolkas and Tony Ayres – liked my writing and gave me a dose of courage with which to persevere – courage and perseverance, something every writer needs.
  1. The prize money helped take me to San Ginese in Tuscany, the town where the Tales are set, to see again the characters I am writing about in the place where they live. This trip also triggered an emotionally satisfying end to the book, but only after I returned to Australia and had thought about it for a long time.
  1. The Deborah Cass Prize also provided a mentor, Antoni Jach, who offered a guiding hand and worked with me at the problem solving that I needed to do.

The Prize has been a rich treasure trove of support for my writing and as it moves into its second year I cannot help but note its strength, with Melanie Cheng, who was shortlisted for the first Deborah Cass Prize, this year winning the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Prize.

To finish on a small personal note … When Southerly published another one of my Tales from San Ginese this year I was glad to be able to promote the Deborah Cass Prize for Writing by adding it to my bio.






2016 Award Event on 13 December

Dear Friends of the Deborah Cass Writing Prize,

Five aspiring writers from migrant backgrounds have been shortlisted for the 2016 Deborah Cass Prize.

Now in its second year, the prize was established in the memory of Melbourne writer Deborah Cass and supports unpublished authors from a migrant background to find a voice and to encourage them to finish and publish their work.

The shortlisted writers are:

  • Edita Mujkic
  • Jean Bachoura
  • Katerina Craven
  • Linda Judge
  • Monica Raszewski

The shortlisting panel said they were once again pleased with the number of entries and the quality of the five shortlisted stories.

“We are again excited to see how the shortlisted pieces show a powerful personal engagement with the migrant experience and use vivid writing to illuminate that experience,” the panel said.

“Whether the writers are migrants or their children, their writing reveals not only the joy, displacement, fulfilment and pain of migration but Australia’s deep and enduring connections to the rest of the world.”

The winning writer will receive a cash prize of $3000 plus a three-month mentorship with an established writer. The manuscript will be presented to a publisher.

The inaugural prize was won by Moreno Giovannoni for ‘Tales of San Ginese’.
For more information, visit the Deborah Cass Prize website.

About Deborah Cass
The granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, Deborah became a prize-winning professor of International Law at the London School of Economics. After being diagnosed with cancer, Deborah left her academic career and focused on creative writing. She had a number of short fiction pieces published, but was unable to realise her aim to complete a novel. With generous support from family and friends, this prize aims to help someone outside the mainstream find a voice for themselves.

You are warmly invited to attend the award event:

What:  2016 Deborah Cass Writing Prize announcement
Who: Tony Ayres, representing the judges
When: Tuesday 13 December 6.00 pm
Where: Centre for Contemporary Photography, 404 George Street Fitzroy

Prize – Kate Larsen (Writers Victoria) 03 9094 7836
Event – Naomi Cass (Centre for Contemporary Photography) 03 9417 1549

Shortlist for 2016 Prize

We’re very pleased to announced the Shortlist for the 2016 Deborah Cass Writing Prize:

  • Jean Bachoura ‘Night Falls’
  • Katerina Craven ‘Our Darkest Places’
  • Linda Judge ‘Mother Tongue’
  • Edita Mujkic ‘From There to Here’
  • Monica Raszewski ‘The archaeology of a dream city’

This shortlist was selected by the Deborah Cass Writing Prize committee from a total of 39 entries. The winner will be selected by our judges and announced at a special event in the middle of December. Subscribe to our email updates for details of this event.