Student shortlisted for £15,000 writing prize

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A Ukrainian refugee, who uses her experiences escaping war to inform her writing, has been shortlisted for the inaugural Footnote x Counterpoints Writing Prize.

Dariia Lysiuk, a second-year Creative Writing student, has been selected as a finalist of the £15,000 Footnote x Counterpoints Prize, for writers from a refugee or migrant background.

The prize was set up by Footnote Press and Counterpoints Arts to showcase and celebrate exceptional non-fiction refugee and migrant writers and to shine an important light on some of the most pertinent topics shaping our lives and society.

The £15,000 award, which includes an advance of £5,000 and a publication agreement with Footnote Press, is for narrative non-fiction centred around themes of displacement, identity and resistance. 

I’m feeling everything at once. I’m extremely honoured, but I also never experienced anything like this before so I’m not sure yet how to internalise that this happened and that it reflects my own effort and is not a fluke.

Dariia Lysiuk

Creative Writing student Dariia has made the final five out of more than 100 prize entries, for her work Notes of a Guilty Survivor, which details her raw emotions and experiences as a Ukrainian Refugee. 

She said: “Notes are a testament to my experience as a Ukrainian refugee: they started as a note on my phone written on a train in March 2022 documenting how I was feeling, and continued in the same vein as a collection of notes about different moments and stages that you come through as a refugee.

"The project has become a way for me to process my experiences and simultaneously share them with those who may struggle to understand what being Ukrainian after 2022 is like, which I find extremely important."

The winner of the Footnote X Counterpoints Writing and two runners-up will be chosen this month (March 2024) by a judging panel comprising Elif Shafak, Philippe Sands and Dina Nayeri.

Writers from displaced and migrant backgrounds have incredibly important perspectives to offer us; the perspectives that might be especially relevant now as we navigate our way through these challenging and divisive times. The submissions we have received this year show us just how powerful and resonant these voices can be, telling their stories with great skill, wisdom and humour.

Almir Koldzic, Director and Co-Founder of Counterpoints Arts

Dariia said: “Winning would completely turn my life upside down because having a book deal at 21 definitely wasn’t in my plans! It would also mean that I need to complete the book, which is scary and surreal because the events that the book is about are not over yet and with every day I have more and more things to say. But ultimately, it would be a life-changing opportunity to make my voice heard and try to use it for change, and that is what matters most.”

Dariia and the four other shortlisted writers, Sabrin Hasbun, Roxana Shirazi, Steve Tasane and Simon Weis, read and discussed their works with an audience at the Southbank Centre in London in February ahead of the winners announcement in March.

Footnote Press Managing Director Vidisha Biswas said: “We were thrilled to receive over 100 submissions to our writing prize in its inaugural year. It has been a mammoth task to narrow these down to a shortlist of just five. From Palestine and Ukraine to Yorkshire and Tuscany, spanning generations and continents, these narratives encapsulate an incredible diversity of experience whilst simultaneously emphasising our common humanity.”

Speaking of her experiences studying at Goldsmiths, Dariia said: “I initially applied to universities just to find a reason to get out of the house: I had just arrived in the UK where the only people I knew were my family who took me in. I wanted to feel like a have a purpose for being here other than just being a refugee, and studying what I loved seemed like a good solution. 

“It may sound ingenuine, but Goldsmiths and the people I met here especially the tutors, got me through the worst time of my life. There were challenges, general admin issues and the issues that come with the fact that I had no idea what education in the UK looked like but I was shocked to find an incredible amount of understanding and patience from my first-year tutors.

“I’m in my second year now, and this impression remains. And after all, if I didn’t go to Goldsmiths, the book probably would not have existed and I would not even have found out about the prize!

“It was my creative writing tutor, Ros Barber, who emailed the link to the prize to me, and the prize submission was mostly just my first year’s creative writing portfolio developed under her supervision. I am still writing with the incredible help from my Tutor Livia Francini, whose support in further development of the book is invaluable.”

More information about the prize including the latest on the winner announcement is available on the Footnote Press website.