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Sabrin Hasbun wins inaugural Footnote x Counterpoints Writing Prize

Sabrin Hasbun has won the inaugural Footnote x Counterpoints Writing Prize for writers from refugee and migrant backgrounds. 

The prize, which recognises narrative non-fiction centred around themes of displacement, identity or resistance, was developed in association with the Southbank Centre, and is supported by the John Ellerman Foundation, Doughty Street Chambers, Spread the Word and The Bookseller.

Hasbun is a Palestinian-Italian transnational writer and lecturer, currently teaching creative writing for activism and decolonisation at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Her submission, entitled Wait for Her, is a memoir-family saga which retraces the love story between her Palestinian father and her Italian mother. 

The prize includes a publication agreement with Footnote Press, who have acquired world rights for the book and plan to publish in Spring 2025.  

Hasbun said: ‘After the loss of my mother, I tried to renegotiate my mixed identity and understand my mother’s choices from an oppressive childhood in a village in Tuscany to love and community activism in Palestine. This is a story about grief and what it means to lose not only loved ones, but also a place in the world and a sense of belonging. I hope Wait for Her will join the chorus of Palestinian voices that are calling from all over the world urging to listen to our people and our land.’

Simon Weisz was awarded second place for his book Resolution, followed by Roxana Shirazi for Dead Iranian Girl.

The winner and runners-up were selected by a judging panel comprising Elif Shafak, Dina Nayeri and Philippe Sands. 

Sands said: ‘It was a great happiness to read the submissions and contribute to a prize that is original and so hugely needed in these challenging and painful times, a prize that reminds us of our common humanity and connection with the lives of others, and the special place occupied by the world of writing. Sabrin’s writing is captivating, drawing us warmly into a world that is both different and familiar, that we want to know about. A special and original voice, one for our times.’ 

Shafak said: ‘It was an immense pleasure to take part in this prize as a judge, it stayed with me, the stories we have read and discussed and I cannot wait to speak again for another project. Vivid, compassionate, captivating, Sabrin’s writing is both deeply rooted in place and culture, and transcending borders in its universality and humanity.’

Nayeri added: ‘It was a pleasure to be a part of this important literary prize and to read such a range of imaginative, moving, and vital voices. It was a difficult choice, but a process that reaffirmed my lifelong belief that stories can remake hearts. Sabrin’s story is a moving and tender story about love and identity, and a meditation on the people who make us who we are. It was a joy to read.’

Footnote Press managing director Vidisha Biswas and Counterpoints Arts director Almir Koldzic, who co-founded the prize, said: ‘We are proud and delighted to have brought our inaugural writing prize to fruition. It has allowed us to discover an enormous diversity of voices and experiences, which can teach us a great deal as we navigate our way through these divisive times. 

‘We hope that Sabrin’s wonderful book will move and touch many hearts, and help us start dismantling so many real and imaginary borders that keep us fearful and separated at the moment. We also hope that her story will pave the way for more writers to share with us other hopeful, beautiful and inclusive ways of living together.’

The winner and both runners-up will have the opportunity to go on a week-long writing residency to work on their books at the Hawkwood Centre for Future Thinking, an independent centre for education located in a 19th-century Grade II listed building at a stunning location in the Cotswolds. Footnote will also be working with London’s literature development agency Spread the Word to host an e-workshop on developing a career as a writer and one-to-one meetings to provide ongoing support for the winning writers. 

Last month, the five shortlisted authors – which also included Dariia Lysiuk and Steve Tasane – read and discussed their work at a live event hosted at the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room.