Books

Safdar Ahmed’s graphic novel ‘Still Alive’ has won NSW Premier’s Literary Awards

Still Alive: Notes from Australia’s Immigration Detention System has taken home Book of the Year at last night’s NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

What began in its early inception as a webcomic, Safdar Ahmed’s, Still Alive: Notes from Australia’s Immigration Detention System won Book of the Year at this year’s NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Documenting the stories of detainees inside Villawood immigration detention centre, Still Alive has been praised by judges for its vision, ambition, and achievement, and as a work of generous labour and an unflinching critique of policy.

Still Alive, was a decade in the making, as far back as 2011, Ahmed was visiting the Villawood detention centre armed only with his tools, a sketch pad, and a set of pencils. Villawood has a ban on video and recording devices. 

Safdar Ahmed
Credit: ABC

Due to Ahmed’s graphic novel receiving such strong critical acclaim, and rapid popularity, Melbourne publisher Twelve Panels Press, is currently undergoing a reprint of Still Alive, which will be ready at the end of May. 

Speaking on Monday, before learning he had won book of the year, he shared with the Guardian that “It is unusual for a comic or graphic novel to be nominated for a prize like this so I wasn’t expecting to even be shortlisted, to be honest. I am delighted,” he said. “I think people are still quite unaware of just how cruel and punishing Australia’s policies are against asylum seekers and refugees. I hope this book educates people.”

Still Alive
Credit: TPP

The senior judge for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Jane McCredie, said that this year’s judges had “grappled with 750 written works presenting a rich array of genres and styles which explore everything from the major themes of our times to the most intimate details of what it is to be human”.

Naming Still Alive the overall winner the judges remarked “Ahmed’s work stands out as an example of brilliant storytelling created with and through community, a labour of generosity, and love. It is an unflinching critique of policy and discourse that demonstrates the power of art,” 

Almost $300,000 was awarded to authors and writers across 12 categories. Author Tony Birch won the $40,000 Christina Stead prize for fiction for his story collection Dark as Last Night, Chloe Wilson’s debut novel Hold your Fire took home the award for New Writing and Dan Disney won best Poetry Prize for accelerations & inertias.

For a full list of winners check out NSW State Library.