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Bryant Apolonio wins the 2021 Deborah Cass Prize for Writing

At an online awards ceremony held last night, 17 November, the 2021 Deborah Cass Prize for Writing was awarded to Bryant Apolonio for his story ‘Independencia’.

Apolonio, a Filipino-Australian writer and lawyer living on Larrakia Land (also known as Darwin), was chosen as the winner of the Prize from a shortlist of nine writers. Bryant receives $3,000 and a mentorship to assist in further development of his work.

Speaking on behalf of the judging panel (Melanie Cheng, Lee Kofman and Sisonke Msimang), Melanie Cheng said: “The judges were all in agreement about the originality and authenticity of the winning story. The judges spoke of the writer’s flair with language and were in awe of their ability to engage the reader’s senses so completely. We loved the nuance in the story and most importantly we felt this piece touched on some of the subtleties of the migrant experience that we hadn’t seen represented in the Australian literary scene previously.”


Bryant Apolonio

Bryant Apolonio, the winner of the 2021 Deborah Cass Prize for Writing


Two runners-up were also announced, and will each receive a prize of $500.

Patrick Arulanandam, a writer of Sri-Lankan heritage who was born in Hong Kong and now lives in New South Wales, was second runner-up for for ‘The Seconds of Holroyd House’. Judge Melanie Cheng commented that Patrick’s story was “an extremely enticing premise, told through a slightly old-fashioned and wry voice. The judges said the prose was rich in texture, the characters were compelling and it was a pleasure to read.”

Irina Frolova, a Russian-Australian poet living on Awabakal land in New South Wales, was announced as first runner-up for ‘On the Tail of the Firebird’. Speaking of Irina’s work, Melanie Cheng said that it is “evocative, with a powerful sense of place, crafted by a confident storyteller. The judges enjoyed the crispness of the language and the clarity of the author’s vision. The judges felt this was the work of an assured and talented writer.”


Irina Frolova and Patrick Arulanandam

Irina Frolova and Patrick Arulanandam, runners-up in the 2021 Deborah Cass Prize


The Deborah Cass Prize is focused on development, and provides $3,000 and a mentorship to an unpublished writer who has migrated to Australia, or has a parent who migrated here.

In her keynote speech, judge and writer Sisonke Msimang said:

“Today we are here to celebrate the words of a group of writers whose understanding of the human condition was evident from the first words we read. As judges we were thrilled to receive such a wide-ranging and beautiful collection of stories. There was humour and pain but above all there was specificity. Some people call this authenticity, or voice. There were small idiosyncrasies that made it clear that no one else could have dreamed up these characters or in the case of the creative non-fiction, described the world in such new and fresh ways. They have all succeeded in telling stories that will live on, regardless of what happens to the rest of us.”

All of the shortlisted writers will have their work read and considered by publisher Black Inc.

Special thanks go event MC James Button, keynote speaker Sisonke Msimang, and judge Melanie Cheng for presenting the awards.
For more information about the Deborah Cass Prize, visit www.deborahzcass.org.

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