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Manus Island asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani wins the prestigious Victorian Premier's Literary Award


January 31, 2019 23:55:30

Manus Island asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani has won the top prize at the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards after organizers made an exception to allow him to enter despite not being a Australian resident or citizen.

Key points:

  • Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani has been detained on Manus Island since 2013
  • He said he hopes the award win will bring more attention to the situation on the island
  • Mr Boochani wrote the book by sending it to Whatsapp messages to his translator

His novel – No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison – won the country's most valuable literary conscious, the $ 100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature, as well as claiming $ 25,000 for the first place in the category of non-fiction.

But Boochani was not in attendance at the awards ceremony. The Kurdish-Iranian journalist remains on Manus Island and, has been denied entry into Australia since his arrest began in 2013.

Speaking to The Guardian, for which he is a columnist, Boochani described receiving the award from a country that has kept him locked for the better part of six years as "a paradoxical feeling."

"My main goal has always been for people in Australia and around the world to understand how deeply this system has tortured innocent people on Manus and Nauru in a systematic way for almost six years," he told Guardian Australia.

"I hope this award will bring more attention to our situation, and create change, and end this barbaric policy."

The Human Rights Law Center of Australia tweeted their congratulations to Boochani calling his novel "an Australian story that as a nation we can not be proud of, but it's a story that can not be ignored."

Typing by mobile phone

Boochani wrote his entire book on his mobile phone and sent it in bits and pieces over years to translator Omid Tofighian via WhatsApp.

Speaking on the ABC's The World program on Thursday night, Mr Tofighian said the book "conveys the systematic torture that is inflicted on refugees in prisons."

"He blends different techniques together and different genres," Mr Tofighian said.

"I call his style an anti-genre … essentially re-evaluates and even criticize the kind of conventions associated with his genre."

Mr Tofighian said the award will give Boochani a greater voice in speaking out on behalf of fellow asylum seekers.

"I think that people are going to be taking their philosophical approach, political commentary and their cultural analysis more seriously," he said.

The regional processing center on Manus Island closed in 2017 but 600 refugees are still living on the island.

Other 2019 literary award winners included Elise Valmorbida for her work of fiction The Madonna of the Mountains, Kate Lilley for her poem Tilt, and Indigenous writer Kim Scott for Taboo.

Kendall Feaver won the award for Drama with The Almighty Sometimes, Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina won the writing for young adults category with Catching Teller Crow and Victoria Hannan's won a prize for her unpublished Kokomo manuscript.




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First posted

January 31, 2019 23:40:13

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