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Thomas Keneally (1935 - ), Booker Prize-winning Australian novelist

Thomas Keneally was born at Kempsey, some 200 miles north of Sydney, Australia, in 1935; he spent his childhood and adolescence at the Sydney suburb of Homebush - site of the 2002 Olympic Games stadium. He studied for the Catholic priesthood for seven years, a calling he abandoned before ordination. The Keneallys live on a northern Sydney beachfront.

Two of his earlier novels, Bring Larks and Heroes (1967) and Three Cheers for the Paraclete (1968), won Australia's foremost literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award.

Greater success came with Keneally's fictional recreation of the Jimmie Governor saga, a bitter real-life incident of dispossession, racism and murder at the turn of the twentieth century. He called his book The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1972), and it became another Miles Franklin Award winner for him. It was the first of three Keneally novels to be shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize, and in 1978 was made into a movie directed by Fred Schepisi.

Keneally's other two Booker shortlisted works were Gossip from the Forest (1975) and Confederates (1979).

His Schindler's Ark (1982), about a German industrialist who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, won the coveted Booker Prize. In 1993 Stephen Spielberg released his movie 'Shindler's List' which was based on this book.

Controversy has often attended Thomas Keneally's fiction as much of his work has a strong factual basis. He is, a Sunday Telegraph reviewer wrote, "a novelist who seems not so much to use history as to write from inside it." His recurring themes include placing his central character in a hostile environment where his values are challenged, and the constant predicaments faced by the common man.

In The Great Shame (1998), Keneally produced a 732-page non-fiction epic covering eighty years of the Irish diaspora. In particular, it deals with political prisoners, some of them ancestors of the Keneally family who came to Australia as convicts.

He is not hesitant about moving away from his homeland for inspiration. Blood Red Sister Rose (1974) centers on Joan of Arc; Gossip From the Forest (1975) focuses on armistice negotiations at the end of World War I; Season in Purgatory (1976) deals with Yugoslav partisans during WWII; Victim of the Aurora is set in an early Antarctic expedition; Confederates (1979) has Stonewall Jackson's 1862 Civil War campaign at its heart; Towards Asmara is a moral thriller set in war-torn Ethiopia; American Scoundrel (2003) looks at the life of notorious Civil War general, Dan Sickles; and in 2003 his book was simply titled [Abraham] Lincoln.

For his services to Australian Literature, Thomas Keneally received the Order of Australia in 1983. He is an ardent advocate for an Australian republic.


Find available items by: Thomas Keneally
Works by Thomas Keneally
Written by Barry Watts, Pegasus Book Orphanage, Australia.


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