Announcing the Winner of the 2019 Prize for Experimental Non-Fiction

The Lifted Brow & RMIT non/fictionLab Prize for Experimental Non-fiction aims to unearth new, audacious, authentic and/or inauthentic voices from both Australia and the world.

This prize seeks work that is unlike any other. We want writers to challenge themselves to create work unlike any they’ve previously produced. 

It’s now time to finally reveal both the winner and runners-up for the 2019 prize!

Before the big announcement, please let us say thanks again our wonderful 2019 judges Timmah Ball, Chris Kraus and Quinn Eades. Also huge thanks to all the readers who helped us whittle the hundreds of entries down, making sure that every piece was read multiple times and discussed: Emma Hardy, Charlotte Callander, Jim Thomas, Pierce Morton, Madelynne Herrmann, Arty Owens, Will MacFarlane, Bethany Edwards, Neve Mahoney, Lauren Rosenberg, Pascale Khan, Emily Ceccchetto, Claudia Tilley, Sophia Benjamin, Caitlin Lawless, and Emily Paesler. And to everyone who submitted to the prize: thank you for the phenomenal work you put in. It was a true joy to read such a wide array of work.

One last round of applause for the amazing shortlisted pieces:

  • Katerina Bryant - ‘Where is my Mind?’

  • Catie Gorman - ‘The Boy’

  • Sarah Vincent - ‘What Should I Call This?’

  • Sophia Small - ‘How Long Can She Hold Her Breath’

  • Tess Pearson - ‘What Sprouts at the Fissures’

  • Jean Bachoura & Flatwhite Damascus - ‘TRETINOIN’

  • Oliver Reeson - ‘Body Language’

  • Carly Stone - ‘Big Think’

The three judges say about the shortlist:

“All the shortlisted pieces show that experimental non-fiction is a vital platform to convey contemporary issues which demand attention. The work of all these shortlisted entrants is highly inventive, using the non-fiction genre to explore the unknown and unknowable.”

And The winner is…

‘TRETINOIN’ by Jean Bachoura and Flatwhite Damascus

Jean Bachoura and Flatwhite Damascus receive $5000, and ‘TRETINOIN’ will be published in The Lifted Brow Issue #43, which is officially on shelves September 2nd. You will find Issue #43 in all good bookstores or you can pre-order now through our website. To be one of the first to read ‘TRETINOIN’ ahead of the official magazine release day, subscribe to The Lifted Brow here.

Here’s what this year’s judges say about ‘TRETINOIN’:

“Jean Bachoura’s ‘TRETINOIN’ is a highly accomplished piece of queer experimental life writing, where skin care regimens, family dinners, hook-ups, and meditations on selfies and beauty are interspersed with trauma stories, social media posts, a self-made meme, QR codes, and hashtags. Bachoura’s skill is in not allowing the reader to rest – skincare tips turn into bloodied hospital walls, the story of a village massacre is interrupted by information on hydrating toners and the best angle to take a selfie from. We are kept on our toes, made to jump between mundanity and terror, tension inexorably building.

The writing in ‘TRETINOIN’ demonstrates the power of non-fiction which pushes our expectations through experimentation – the text, social media snippets and selfies blend the horrors of war with the urgency of the everyday to amplify the complex and terrifying realities which exist. Jean Bachoura and Flatwhite Damascus’s work is dark, nihilistic and funny in the best possible ways.”

About the Winners:

Jean TLB Headshot Cropped .jpg


Jean Bachoura is an inaugural recipient of The Wheeler Centre’s Next Chapter award. His work is reflective of a life lived between cultures: born in Damascus, raised in Syria, Lebanon and Australia. In 2016 he was awarded the Deborah Cass Prize for his piece Night Falls. In 2017 he wrote No Man’s Land, an account of his journey crossing the border into Syria. His work has been published in Kill Your Darlings and Reading Victoria.

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Flatwhite Damascus is a Syria-based skincare influencer and wellness coach with over 150 organic followers. Being the only skincare influencer in war-torn Syria has been hard on them. They are currently developing an all-natural skincare line featuring actual Damascus Rose Water from actual Damascus.
*Flatwhite can’t believe Jean paid 10,000 Syrian pounds for two eggs and half an avo. They could have fed a whole family for a week with that.

The Runners-Up:

We are thrilled to announce that ‘Body Language’ by Oliver Reeson is first runner-up, and ‘What Sprouts at the Fissures’ by Tess Pearson is second runner-up. Huge congratulations to these two fantastic writers, who each receive $500.

The three judges have this to say about the runners-up:

“All the shortlisted pieces show that experimental non-fiction is a vital platform to convey contemporary issues which demand attention. The work of all these shortlisted entrants is highly inventive, using the non-fiction genre to explore the unknown and unknowable.

Oliver Reeson’s ‘Body Language’ writes a love letter to Kylie Minogue and pop while telling a cancer story. Deceptively simple-looking on the surface (much like Kylie’s songs), Reeson has turned Kylie’s lyrics into poetry, and dextrously woven this poetry throughout the piece.

 Tess Pearson’s ‘What Sprouts at the Fissures’ is a dense and melancholic piece of writing that uses psychoanalytic and critical literary theory to delve into grief and loss. Pay attention to the images in this piece – easy to brush over at first, to not see, these pictures accrete meaning as the text progresses, becoming as thick as the words that wrap around them.”



Oliver Reeson, is a trans non-binary essayist, screenwriter, and fiction writer. They are the co-creator and writer of Homecoming Queens, an award winning web series commissioned by SBS and released on their On Demand platform in early 2018. They have also had prose writing appear with publications such as The Lifted Brow, Junkee, Overland, Meanjin,Voiceworks, and the Black Inc. anthology Growing Up Queer in Australia, edited by Benjamin Law. They have also edited fiction and comics forScum. In 2018 they were awarded Best Screenplay from the Australian Writers Guild for the episode ‘Beach’ from Homecoming Queens. This series was also nominated for an AACTA for best online series. Oliver is currently working on a collection of personal essays about the intersections of gender and illness. Excerpts of this project are sent out from

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Tess Pearson’s poetry, fiction and microlit can be found in Southerly, Cordite, Rabbit, Swamp, Scum Mag, Open Minds Quarterly, and a number of print anthologies. She has had work performed live and in visual and audio installations at a number Spineless Wonders’ events. Tess was winner of the 2017 NWF/SW joanne burns Microlit Award, and participated in the 2018 edition of Hardcopy: The Professional Development Program for Australian Writers. She lives on Gadigal land.


Thanks again to our winners, submitters, judges, readers, and our prize manager Lujayn Hourani.

And of course, this prize would also not be possible without the ongoing financial support of the Copyright Agency and RMIT’s non/fictionLab.

See you next year when we do it all over again! ◆