Behrouz Boochani Wins the 2019 Victorian Prize for Literature

The 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards were announced tonight at a ceremony at MPavilion in Queen Victoria Gardens in Melbourne, with winners announced across the categories of Fiction, Non-Fiction, Drama, Poetry, Young Adult, Indigenous Writing and Unpublished Manuscript. The winner of the People's Choice Award (as chosen by your votes) was announced too, as well as the prestigious overall Victorian Prize for Literature.

Group photo of the category winners

From left to right: Victoria Hannan, Ezekiel Kwaymullina, Kate Lilley, Kendall Feaver, Kim Scott, Bri Lee, Elise Valmorbida, Omid Tofighian and Ambelin Kwaymullina — Photo: Hannah Koelmeyer

The winner of the 2019 Victorian Prize for Literature wrote most of his award-winning book using WhatsApp.

Kurdish-Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani wrote his remarkable work of non-fiction, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, over the course of five years while living on Manus Island in Australia's offshore detention centre. Tonight he has won two awards at the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards ceremony, held at MPavilion in Melbourne: the Victorian Premier's Literary Prize for Non-Fiction, worth $25,2000, and the overall Victorian Prize for Literature, which is Australia's richest literary prize, worth $100,000.

The awards were accepted at the ceremony by Boochani's translator, Omid Tofighian, who worked with Boochani over five years to bring the work to life. In a recorded video message, Boochani himself said, 'I have always said I believe in words and literature. I believe that literature has the potential to make change and challenge structures of power. Literature has the power to give us freedom.'

'I believe that literature has the potential to make change and challenge structures of power. Literature has the power to give us freedom.'

Trauma and mental health-related issues were dominant themes across other categories at this year's Victorian Premier's Literay Awards. Kendall Feaver’s play about mental health, The Almighty Sometimes, took out the Prize for Drama; Kate Lilley’s poetic exploration of types of abuse, Tilt, claimed the Prize for Poetry; and Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina’s Catching Teller Crow, an addictive ghost story told half in prose and half in verse, won the Prize for Writing for Young Adults. Kim Scott’s Taboo, a novel of survival and renewal, as much as destruction, won the Prize for Indigenous Writing. Elise Valmorbida’s The Madonna of the Mountains won the Prize for Fiction. This year’s Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript was awarded to Victoria Hannan for Kokomo

More than 1100 people voted for the People’s Choice Award, and this year it goes to Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards celebrate the best contemporary Australian writing and are administered by the Wheeler Centre on behalf of the Premier of Victoria.

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