Behrouz Boochani couldn’t attend this year’s Victorian Prize for Literature, despite winning the top prize of $100,000. He was elsewhere.
A detainee of Manus Island, the Kurdish refugee has been incarcerated for more than five years. His poetic memoir No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison took out first place at the awards ceremony on Thursday night. The choice was controversial; the book had been deemed ineligible at the NSW Premier’s Awards and the Walkley Foundation’s book awards because Boochani is neither an Australian citizen nor a permanent resident.
Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani has taken out the Victorian Prize for Literature whilst still detained at Manus Island, sparking international debate about Australia’s policy on refugees.
Judges of the Victorian Prize for Literature gave a special exemption to Boochani. They said that while the author is not an Australian citizen or resident, “he, and his statelessness, are Australia’s responsibility”.
The win brought on mixed feelings for the author. Said Boochani in an interview from Manus Island with The Age:
“My main aim in writing the book was for people to understand deeply how this system has tortured innocent people on Manus and Nauru in a systematic way for almost six years.
I don’t want to celebrate this achievement while I still see many innocent people suffering around me. This is why it’s a paradoxical feeling. I demand freedom, give us freedom. We have committed no crime, we are only seeking asylum.”
Elise Valmorbida ‘s historical novel The Madonna of the Mountains took out the top fiction prize, and Kate Lilley won the poetry prize for her collection, Tilt. Other winners included Kendall Feaver for The Almighty Sometimes (drama category), Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina for Catching Teller Crow (writing for young adults category), Kim Scott’s Taboo (Indigenous writing category), Victoria Hannah’s Kokomo (unpublished manuscript award), and people’s choice award, Bri Lee’s Eggshell Skull.