Mansoor Adayfi, 2019 Award Winner
Mansoor Adayfi, through an extraordinary feat of emotional alchemy, turned his 14-plus years of captivity at Guantánamo Bay Prison Camp into compelling narratives of human connection and hope. Adayfi’s win marks the first time the prestigious award, established in 1992, has gone to a writer outside the U.S.
In late 2001, just before he turned 19, Adayfi was kidnapped and sold under false pretenses to U.S. forces in Afghanistan for bounty money. After being detained and tortured, he was transferred in February 2002 to Guantánamo. He was released to Serbia in July 2016 without charge.
While at Guantánamo, Adayfi began to learn English by reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. Toward the end of his captivity, he began writing -- often with surprising humor -- about his own and his fellow prisoners’ human journeys in a place designed to destroy humanity.
“I have always been a curious and talkative person who loved to collect and tell stories,” Adayfi says. “There was life at Guantánamo, harsh, boring life, but also a beautiful life and moments of connection that reminded me that I was human. I wrote about Guantánamo, about the men’s lives around me, about our struggle. I wrote to make myself human and to process what had happened to me.”
Adayfi’s resulting work has been published in the New York Times and in the collection Witnessing Torture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). He is currently at work on two books. Moments from Guantánamo, an expansive memoir, chronicles daily life inside one of the world’s most secretive and notorious prison camps between 2002 and 2016. Adayfi’s poetic prose and keen observations pull readers into Guantánamo to live the men’s battles of survival, the relationships they developed with each other and with guards, and the pain, love, betrayals, and friendships they experienced over 14 years. Art from Guantánamo describes the dehumanizing treatment and brutal interrogations of the detainees, and how they clung to their humanity through creativity. From a dark beginning the book will move to the sunlight of the detainees’ artistic flowering, revealing a scope of creative practice inside the prison that has never been fully disclosed.
“Richard Margolis’ work as a writer and editor showed the world how political and policy issues affect real people,” Adayfi says. “He made the abstract personal—he made it human. That is what I hope to do with my writing. I hope to connect souls together and tell important stories that change the way people see the world and the people who have been overlooked or forgotten—the people who have been discarded by politics and history.
“This award is not just for me,” he adds. “It is for all the men detained at Guantánamo.”
UPDATE: Since winning the Margolis Award, Adayfi was selected (in October 2020) by the Sundance Institute as one of 12 Fellows in its first "Episodic: Pilot to Series Lab," and he published a book, Don't Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo, with collaborator Antonio Aiello, in August 2021. The book, a memoir of his 14 years of captivity, has garnered great praise. He has been interviewed on NPR, the PBS News Hour, Democracy Now and numerous other media outlets about the book and the situation at Guantanamo. He remains unrelenting in his efforts to press for the closure of Guantanamo and the release of those who remain held without charge.