Behrouz Boochani wins the Victorian Prize for Literature

VPLA Behrouz BoochaniVictorian Creative Industries Minister Martin Foley has announced Behrouz Boochani as the major prize winner at the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for his first book, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison.

“Congratulations to all the winners of this year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, whose unique works move us and open us up to new perspectives and human experiences,” said Minister Foley. The Premier’s Literary Awards are in their 34th year, and we’re so proud to support the prize that has launched and fostered the careers of so many of our best writers.”

Boochani won the Victorian Prize for Literature from a shortlist of 28 works across the seven categories at the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards ceremony at MPavilion this evening. In addition to taking out the top honour, Boochani was awarded the Prize for Non-Fiction.

The award was accepted by the book’s translator Omid Tofighian, who worked with Boochani over five years to bring the work to life. Born in Iran, Boochani sought refuge in Australia, but was sent to our country’s offshore detention centre. Boochani is a Kurdish-Iranian journalist, human rights defender, poet, film producer and writer.

According to the judging panel, Boochani’s debut book is a ‘stunning work of art’ and paints a vivid portrait through five years of incarceration and exile. Written largely via WhatsApp messages, Boochani has been working on this book for five years while detained on Manus Island. The book has been hailed as a ‘literary triumph, devastating and transcendent.

Trauma and mental health-related issues were the dominant themes for 2018, to which these awards attest. 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. Scott was also the winner of the 2011 Victorian Prize for Literature for his third novel, That Deadman Dance, and he is a two-time winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award.

This year’s Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript was awarded to Victoria Hannan for Kokomo, a novel about the violence and the softness of navigating the world as a young woman. This award has launched the careers of writers including Jane Harper, Graeme Simsion and Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Elise Valmorbida’s sixth book, The Madonna of the Mountains, a literary novel that shifts in unexpected, utterly fascinating ways won the Prize for Fiction. Over 1100 people voted for the People’s Choice Award, and this year it goes to Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee.

“Each year the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards give us a snapshot of the stories, the imaginations and the voices that make up the rich and diverse breadth of the Australian experience,” said Wheeler Centre Director Michael Williams. “The 2019 shortlist and winners are an extraordinary testament to the role and power of literature: bearing witness to our present and giving voice to our past.”

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. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Behrouz Boochani – courtesy of SBS News

Winners of the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards:

Victorian Prize for Literature:
No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani (Picador Australia)

Prize for Fiction:
The Madonna of the Mountains by Elise Valmorbida (Faber & Faber)

Prize for Non-Fiction:
No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani (Picador Australia)

Prize for Drama:
The Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver (Currency Press, in association with Griffin Theatre Company)

Prize for Poetry:
Tilt by Kate Lilley (Vagabond Press)

Prize for Writing for Young Adults:
Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Allen & Unwin)

Prize for Indigenous Writing:
Taboo by Kim Scott (Picador Australia)

Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript:
Kokomo by Victoria Hannan

People’s Choice Award:
Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee (Allen & Unwin)