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
Find available items by: Thomas Keneally