Masters Series: Behrouz Boochani with translators Omid Tofighian & Moones Mansoubi

We are thrilled to bring you this special episode with Kurdish-Iranian journalist, writer, filmmaker and refugee advocate Behrouz Boochani.

The episode includes conversations Kate had with Behrouz in Aotearoa at Verb Wellington and in Naarm, Melbourne ahead of his sold out event at The Wheeler Centre. At Behrouz’s request, Kate also spoke to his translators and collaborators Omid Tofighian & Moones Mansoubi about how they work together, the making of the new book Freedom, Only Freedom: The Prison Writings of Behrouz Boochani and the current situation in Iran. 

Associate Professor Behrouz Boochani graduated from Tarbiat Moallem University and Tarbiat Modares University, both in Tehran; he holds a Masters degree in political science, political geography and geopolitics.

He was a writer for the Kurdish language magazine Werya; is Associate Professor in Social Sciences at UNSW; non-resident Visiting Scholar at the Sydney Asia Pacific Migration Centre (SAPMiC), University of Sydney; Honorary Member of PEN International; and winner of an Amnesty International Australia 2017 Media Award, the Diaspora Symposium Social Justice Award, the Liberty Victoria 2018 Empty Chair Award, and the Anna Politkovskaya award for journalism.

He publishes regularly with The Guardian, and his writing also features in The Saturday Paper, Huffington Post, New Matilda, The Financial Times and The Sydney Morning Herald. Boochani is also co-director (with Arash Kamali Sarvestani) of the 2017 feature-length film Chauka, Please Tell Us The Time; and collaborator on Nazanin Sahamizadeh’s play Manus.

Boochani’s book, No Friend But The Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison won the 2019 Victorian Prize for Literature in addition to the Nonfiction category. He has also won the Special Award at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the Australian Book Industry Award for Nonfiction Book of the Year, and the National Biography Prize. It has been published in 18 languages in 23 countries and is currently being adapted for both stage and screen.

Behrouz has been appointed adjunct associate professor in the faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of NSW and visiting professor at Birkbeck Law School at the University of London.

He was a political prisoner incarcerated by the Australian government in Papua New Guinea for almost seven years. In November 2019 Behrouz escaped to New Zealand. He now resides in Wellington, New Zealand.

During this conversation Behrouz discusses:

  • His process of becoming a writer
  • Publishing the Kurdish language magazine Werya in Iran.
  • His journey to Australia as a refugee carrying the book of poetry – Sabir Haka‘s Fear of Being a Labourer Again in the Afterlife
  • Rejecting the language of journalism and including poetry and perspective in his writings
  • The difficulty of working as a journalist at the same time as being incarcerated.
  • The process of making and creating from Manus Prison, including making the film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time
  • The kyriarchal system – the mentality of a system designed to control people
  • How humiliation targets a person’s dignity
  • Writing other people’s stories: they banish people to be out of sight and mind, so it’s very important to make those people visible.
  • Artistic creation beyond Behrouz’s writing and how other artists approach the material and interpret the work into their own language and medium
  • Walking and cycling as part of Behrouz’s creative process
  • Listening to short stories, especially Ernest Hemmingway
  • The cost of advocacy and how minority advocates are ‘double marginalised’ by mainstream media and political systems
  • The collaboration with Omid Tofighian and Moones Mansoubi

We were lucky to also speak with Omid Tofighian and Moones Mansoubi.

Moones Mansoubi is a translator and Community Arts and Cultural Development worker based in Sydney. Her work is dedicated mainly to supporting and collaborating with migrants and people seeking asylum in Australia.

Omid Tofighian is an award winning lecturer, researcher and community advocate. His publications include the translation of Boochani’s award winning No Friend But the Mountains: Writings from Manus Prison.

Omid Tofighian

Ways to support and take action re the situation in Iran

Organisations to support the work of refugees and incarcerated writers

Behrouz Boochani’s advice:

‘Listen to minorities. Go and sit down with minorities. Anywhere you go, anything that is happening in the world, you go and listen and read what is written by minorities.

‘Writing is like being addicted to a drug. You learn how to live with that drug. For every person there is a different style or a different way.’

Recommended reading:

The Yield – Tara June Winch

If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller – Italo Calvino

Follow Behrouz Boochani on twitter and facebook. Purchase his new book Freedom, Only Freedom here or via your local bookseller.

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