Thomas Keneally Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Thomas Michael Keneally (kuh-NEE-lee), one of Australia’s best-regarded and most prolific writers, was born to Catholic parents of Irish ancestry. He was educated at St. Patrick’s College in Strathfield, New South Wales, and studied first for the priesthood—the young priest in Three Cheers for the Paraclete reflects Keneally’s training, and Keneally’s Catholicism pervades his novels—and later for a law career. He taught in a high school in Sydney from 1960 to 1964 before marrying Judith Martin in 1965, a year after he had published his first novel, The Place at Whitton. Keneally later disparaged this novel, as well as the second, The Fear, which he has termed the “obligatory” account of a novelist’s childhood. Despite his later disdain for these early novels, they won critical acclaim (the Miles Franklin Award in 1967 and 1968, and the Captain Cook Bi-Centenary Prize in 1970) and established Keneally as a leading novelist.

In 1966 and 1968, Keneally’s first two plays were produced, and in 1968 he became a lecturer in drama at the University of New England in New South Wales. His third novel, Bring Larks and Heroes, the account of a young soldier’s exile to Australia, was followed by two novels in the English novel-of-manners tradition. In A Dutiful Daughter, however, he abandoned the realistic psychological novel for an expressionistic portrait of an Australian family with two normal children and a mother and father who from the waist down are half cow and half bull. After A Dutiful Daughter, Keneally retreated from these fantastic extremes, but he has retained his use of myths, fable, and parable.

In his post-1971 novels, he often focuses on historical figures, some of legendary or mythic stature. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, more accessible and more popular than A Dutiful Daughter, concerns a half-Aborigine forced into crime; Blood Red, Sister Rose examines the myth associated with Joan of Arc; and Schindler’s Ark (Schindler’s List in the United States) recounts a German industrialist’s...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Thomas Michael Keneally was born in Wauchope, New South Wales, Australia, on October 7, 1935. He studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood in his youth but left the seminary two weeks before he was to take Holy Orders. He completed his education at St. Patrick’s College, New South Wales. He married Judith Martin in 1965. Before becoming a full-time novelist, he taught high school in Sydney from 1960 to 1964 and published his first book, The Place at Whitton. In 1967, he won the Miles Franklin Award for Bring Larks and Heroes. From 1968 to 1970, he was a lecturer in drama at the University of New England, New South Wales. He lived in London in 1970-1971, and from 1975 to 1977 he lived in the United States, working as a university lecturer at New Milford, Connecticut. In 1982, he published Schindler’s Ark, which was published in the United States in 1983 as Schindler’s List; an internationally successful film adaptation of the novel was released under the latter title in 1993.

Keneally demonstrated his concern for Australian nationalism as a leader of the Republican Movement during the 1990’s, working for separation from the British Commonwealth and recognition of national status for Australia. His work as a novelist, examining the human soul in the most dramatic of situations as well as looking at Australian history and culture, is paralleled by his political activism. In 1998, Keneally was elected as one of twenty delegates from New South Wales to Australia’s Constitutional Convention. In his novels, he has focused on the individual in the midst of moral and existential chaos, on the individual’s growth into heroism in the most extreme circumstances. As a prominent national figure, he was one of several who signed Community Aid Abroad’s Global Charter for Basic Rights. Having served as distinguished professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine, from 1991 through 1994, Keneally was awarded that university’s medal for service and commitment. He has also been awarded the Order of Australia for Services to Literature in 1983 and has been named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.