Behrouz Boochani Award Acceptance Speech

Detained writer, Behrouz Boochani won two literary awards in Australia. Read his award acceptance speech here.

On 31st January 2019, Iranian/Kurdish writer, Behrouz Boochani won both the $25,000 non-fiction prize at the Victorian premier’s literary awards and the $100,000 Victorian prize for literature for his book, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison. However, he was unable to accept the prizes as he is detained on Manus Island as part of Australia’s immigration programme.
Here is a transcript of his acceptance speech

When I arrived at Christmas Island six years ago, an immigration official called me into the office and told me that they were going to exile me to Manus Island, a place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I told them that I am a writer. That same person just laughed at me, and ordered the guards to exile me to Manus.

I kept this image in my mind for years, even while I was writing my novel – and even right now, as I’m writing this acceptance speech. It was an act of humiliation.

When I arrived in Manus, I created another image for myself. I imagined a novelist in a remote prison. Sometimes I would work half naked beside the prison fences and imagine a novelist locked up right there, in that place. This image was awe inspiring. For years I maintained this image in my mind. Even while I was forced to wait in long queues to get food, or while enduring other humiliating moments.

This image always helped me uphold my dignity and keep my identity as a human being. In fact, I created this image in opposition to the image created by the system. After years of struggling against the system that has completely ignored our individual identities, I am happy that we have arrived at this moment.

This proves that words still have the power to challenge inhumane systems and structures. I have always said that 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. Yes, it is true.

I have been in a cage for years but throughout this time my mind has always been producing words, and these words have taken me across borders, taken me overseas and to unknown places. I truly believe words are more powerful than the fences of this place, this prison.

This is not just a basic slogan. I am not an idealist. I am not expressing the views of an idealist here. These words are from a person who has been held captive on this island for almost six years. A person who has witnessed an extraordinary tragedy unfold in this place. These words allow me to appear there with you, tonight.

With humility, I would like to say that this award is a victory. It is a victory not only for us, but for literature and art and above all, it is a victory for humanity. A victory for human beings, for human dignity. A victory against a system that has never recognised us as human beings. It is a victory against a system that has reduced us to numbers.

This is a beautiful moment. Let us all rejoice tonight in the power of literature.

 

Tags: Australia Behrouz Boochani immigration Iran refugee Writers at Risk writers in prison