> Skip to content

Article  •  12 May 2016

 

50 years of greatness

Notes on the incredible life and career of Tom Keneally.

Tom Keneally is one of Australia’s and the world’s most successful writers, having been nominated three times for the Booker Prize and winning it once. He is the author of more than 40 published works and has won several other prizes including two Miles Franklin Awards, the Scripter Award of the University of Southern California, the Mondello International Prize, the Gold Medal of the University of California, the Helmerich Prize (U.S.) and a Logie Award, an AFI Award and the Critics Circle Award for his screenplays.

Thomas Michael Keneally was born in Kempsey on October 7, 1935 and went to school on the north coast of New South Wales and in the western suburbs of Sydney.  He worked in a variety of jobs including high school teaching and had his first short story published in The Bulletin. During one Christmas break, he decided to write a novel which Cassell in Great Britain agreed to publish – before going broke. The first novel was The Place at Whitton, published in 1964.

Ignorance of the realities of publishing led Tom to believe there was a living to be made in professional writing in Australia in the 60s and it was only this ‘wrong-headedness’ that allowed him to survive. While working as a part-time insurance collector in Newtown and Marrickville he completed a second novel, The Fear (1965) and received a Commonwealth Literary fund grant, which allowed him to write Bring Larks and Heroes (1967) marking the beginning of a career as a full-time professional.  This novel won the Miles Franklin Award in 1967, as did Three Cheers for the Paraclete in 1968. The Survivor (1969) was awarded equal first prize in the Cook Bicentenary Award.

One day in Beverly Hills Tom met a luggage merchant who told him the story of Schindler’s Ark (1982), which, with its controversial blending of fact and fiction, won him the prestigious Booker Prize and the Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction, and led to Steven Spielberg and Universal Studios commissioning him to write the screenplay.  His most recent novel is Shame and the Captives (2013) in which he explores the intimacies of ordinary life played out against momentous world events. Most recently, his play Transport, based on his wife’s grandmother’s story, opened in New York at the Irish Repertory Theatre in February 2015.

Tom married Judith and raised two daughters who grew up thinking it was normal for a father to stay at home sweating onto blank pieces of paper. He has four grandchildren, Rory, Alexandra, Clementine and Augustus. He was the founding chairman of the Australian Republican Movement and is a present member of the Board of Constitutional Education Fund of Australia. He is currently also the co-editor of Another Country, a PEN collection of asylum seeker writings, and A Country Too Far, a collection of leading Australian writers on the asylum seeker issue. When not writing, lecturing or attending speaking engagements, Tom enjoys politician-watching, swimming, cryptic crosswords, telling anecdotes about his brilliant daughters, hiking, watching the Manly Sea Eagles play and cross-country skiing.

More features

See all
Book clubs
Napoleon’s Last Island book club notes

Tom Keneally’s Napoleon’s Last Island – a reading group selection to remember.

Article
Good Books about Tough Topics

Figuring out how to talk to children about difficult emotions can sometimes feel impossible. Books can offer a good gateway to starting these conversations. Here are some books that might help you to navigate those tricky topics.

Article
Cook for mum this Mother’s Day!

We know it can be tricky to find the perfect recipe to make mum for Mother’s Day so we’ve put together this list of fantastic recipe ideas from some of our favourite cookbooks. Whether you’re looking for a cosy soup or a sweet treat, or something in between, we’ve got you covered!

Article
The Unsolved Mysteries that Inspired House of Hollow

Author Krystal Sutherland shares her favourite stories.

Article
Michelle Obama: note to self

The First Lady of the United States pens a letter to her younger self.

Article
Locked Down: Real Reader Reviews

We wanted to know what young Kiwi readers thought about Jesse O's book Locked Down (hint: they loved it!). Read on to see their reviews.

Article
Locked Down: A note from the author

When Jesse O wrote Locked Down (then titled Staying Home) back in 2011, she never imagined that almost a decade later, the events of her novel would prove spookily accurate . . .

Article
The road trip that inspired Showtym Adventures 8!

Syd, the Muster Pony tells the story of the Wilson sisters' most epic adventure yet, and it's inspired by a real-life road trip Kelly and her sisters took in 2001! (warning: this article might induce a desperate longing to go adventuring around the country, read on at your own risk)

Article
Suzi McAlpine on the inspiration behind Beyond Burnout

Find out the inspiration behind Beyond Burnout, as well as what you'll learn from reading it!

Article
YA fiction we can't wait to read in 2021!

From contemporary rom-coms, to literary debuts, to the creepiest modern gothic fairytale you could imagine (seriously . . . it is AWESOME!), we've got some stellar YA lined up for you this year. Read on for recommendations for your TBR pile!

Article
This will be hard

In How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Bill Gates outlines just some of the hurdles between humanity and a net-zero carbon world.

Article
Beyond Hairy Maclary

Hairy Maclary and his friends are known and loved all over the world. But how familiar are you with Dame Lynley Dodd's other creations? There are plenty to discover, and just like Hairy Maclary, they all feature Lynely's uniquely exuberant artwork and gorgeously readable rhymes! Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Looking for more articles?

See all articles