Janette Chen wins the 2019 Deborah Cass Prize

Monday, December 9, 2019
By: 
Writers Victoria and the Deborah Cass Committee

Janette Chen, 2019 winner of the Deborah Cass Prize, with Jean Bachoura, 2016 winner
Janette Chen (left) with Jean Bachoura (right). Photo by David Patston.

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2019 Deborah Cass Prize for migrant writing is Janette Chen, for her story 'Wall of Men'.

The Deborah Cass Prize, now in its fifth year, awards $3000 plus a mentorship with an established writer and an introduction to a publisher to an unpublished writer who was born overseas or has at least one parent who was born overseas.

The prize exists to bring new voices into the Australian writing landscape and to honour the memory of academic, lawyer and writer Deborah Cass, who died in 2013. Previous winners are Moreno Giovannoni, Jean Bachoura, Rafeif Ismail, and Karina Ko.

The 2019 runners-up are Anna Kortschak for her story 'Pieces of Nothing', and Belinda Paxton for 'Clinging to Space Hardware'.

'Wall of Men' is a cinematic, raw and funny story about a girl’s wrestle to balance her physical desire with her destiny as an “Asian overachiever”, and whether the boy she might have her eye on is worth the effort or just a prawn: enjoy the body but toss the head away.

Judges Melanie Cheng and Lee Kofman (a third judge, Nyadol Nyuon, was unable to attend the judging) praised Janette for her “mastery of the short story form,” including her capacity to write a good ending, something that can be hard to do in short stories.

One judge said, “There are too many earnest works published in Australia. An effortless sense of humour permeates this story, as well as a complex sense of psychology and of a woman’s sexuality.”

The judges cited Anna Kortschak “poetic and distinct voice. She has a really rich story to tell, which she approaches from a lot of interesting angles.”

They also praised Belinda Paxton’s “rich and poetic prose”, “ “innovative structure”, avoidance of cliché, and the situating of her story in an arresting historical context.

Janette Chen reading from her winning entry. Photo by David Patston.

Janette Chen reading from her winning entry. Photo by David Patston.

The judges said that the shortlisted entries this year were of a high quality, but said that in future they hoped to see more stories from first generation migrants. One said, “theirs is a different, more insecure experience, and we would like to see that reflected in more narratives.”

However, one pointed out that migration could also be a great source of humour, as a migrant compares the new culture to the old.

The Deborah Cass Prize committee is delighted to announce this year’s winners and thanks every writer who submitted an entry to the fifth Prize.