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‘Impassioned letter’ from Manus Island wins 2019 National Biography Award

Monday 12 August 2019

Behrouz Boochani’s powerful story of detention on Manus Island has won this year’s $25,000 National Biography Award, the nation’s richest prize for biographical writing, the State Library of NSW announced on Monday 12 August 2019.

The judges praised Boochani’s No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison (Picador Australia) for its poetic and epic writing, calling the book “profoundly important, an astonishing act of witness and testament to the lifesaving power of writing as resistance.”

No Friend But the Mountains describes life on Manus Island where Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani has been held for more than six years, recounting the shocking tiny details of cruelty, degradation, humiliation and constant surveillance.

Behrouz accepted his award via Whatsapp: 

"Hello, I would like to say hello to everyone.

I am very excited. I am sitting with an Australian friend and hear this news. Thank you very much.

I don’t want to talk about literature , just I would 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.

Also, I would like to thank all of my friends: Omid Tofighian, Moones Mansoubi and others for helping me in this way and in this struggle.

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.

Thank you very much."

For the first time this year, the $5,000 Michael Crouch Award for a Debut Work was presented to Sofija Stefanovic for her exceptional coming-of-age memoir Miss Ex- Yugoslavia (Penguin Random House Australia). The judges described this as a “finely observed and ambitious debut memoir which is a thoughtful and tender addition to the genre of migration stories.”

View the 2019 National Biography Award shortlists.

Download full media release