Kurdish-Iranian writer and journalist Behrouz Boochani has won Australia's A$25,000 (Dh62,275) National Biography award – the latest accolade in a long string of prizes he's had to accept from purgatory on Manus Island.
Boochani has just entered his sixth year of detention on the island, Australia’s offshore processing and detention system in Papua New Guinea.
His autobiography No Friend but the Mountains recounts his journey from Indonesia to Australia by boat, and his ensuing imprisonment by the Australian government, which continues to refuse him entry.
Incredibly, the journalist and activist wrote the book via text message from Manus to his friend Omid Tofighian, who translated the book into English from Persian.
The book has already seen a run of success in Australia's literary scene: it picked up A$125,000 at the country's richest literary prize, the Victorian premier's literary awards, non-fiction book of the year at the Australian Book Industry awards, and a A$10,000 prize at the New South Wales premier’s literary awards.
At the National Biography award, which was presented on Monday morning at the State Library of NSW, Boochani accepted the award by a WhatsApp call.
He recounted his excitement at hearing the news of his win while sitting with an Australian friend, and thanked the audience and his collaborators and friends for "helping me in this way and in this struggle".
"I don’t want to talk about literature, I would [just] like to say that I think the literature community as a part of civil society of Australia are part of our resistance in front of this system and I think it is very valuable, and I do appreciate everyone for recognising my work," he said.
"I don’t know what to say, just thank you very much. I think history will judge this generation and will judge all of us in this hard and dark period of Australian history."
Before Boochani arrived in Australia, he graduated from Tarbiat Moallem University and Tarbiat Modares University, both in Tehran, and gained a Masters degree in political science, political geography and geopolitics.
He went on to found and write for Kurdish language magazine Werya, and is also an associate professor in social sciences at the University of New South Wales and non-resident visiting scholar at the Sydney Asia Pacific Migration Centre (SAPMiC) at the University of Sydney. Aside from his many writing accolades, he's won a string of prizes for his activism, including an Amnesty International Australia 2017 Media Award and the Diaspora Symposium Social Justice Award.
Boochani is also co-director of the 2017 feature-length film Chauka, Please Tell Us The Time, which Boochani shot secretly from inside the Manus detention centre on a smartphone over six months. The film screened at several film festivals around the world.
Click below to watch the trailer:
The National Biography award judges’ praised Boochani’s book as “an impassioned letter to those who would define Boochani as MEG45 [his prison number], who insist he is nothing more than a number; it speaks to the importance of life writing and of the human need to tell our stories".
"Boochani describes life on Manus as only an insider can, recounting the shocking tiny details of cruelty, degradation, humiliation and constant surveillance.
"The writing is poetic and epic, steeped in the tradition of Persian culture and belief systems. The book is profoundly important, all the more so because of the means of its production, an astonishing act of witness, and testament to the lifesaving power of writing as resistance."