Thomas Keneally (kuh-NEE-lee) was born to Edmund and Elsie Keneally in New South Wales, Australia. The Keneally family—Irish and Roman Catholic—moved from the small town of Wauchope to Homebush, a suburb of Sydney, when Keneally was just an infant, and he was educated at the Christian Brothers’ school in Strathfield. Both devout and studious, Keneally went immediately from school into the seminary, and from 1953 to 1959 he prepared for a career as a Catholic priest. He left the seminary only a short time before he was to be ordained. Keneally has explained his decision to do so as the result of the strain of pursuing “sanctity according to the Irish.” More specifically, he had come to despair that the Church would ever change to meet the needs of modern Australian society.
After completing his education at St. Patrick’s College, he became a high school teacher in a Catholic school in Sydney, but teaching did not satisfy him, and he took up the study of law. On vacation in 1962 and 1963, Keneally began his first novel. Prior to this time, he had done very little serious writing, except for some poetry and a few short stories. In 1963, an Australian magazine, The Bulletin, accepted some of his short fiction, and in 1964 his first novel, The Place at Whitton, a mix of murder and gothic romance, was published. By 1965, when his second novel, The Fear, appeared, Keneally was fully committed to the precarious objective of making his living as a writer. In the same year he married Judith Martin, a former nun; they had two children, Margaret and Jane.
Keneally received recognition as a writer from early in his career; in 1967, he was the recipient of his first Commonwealth Literary Fund Award for his novel, published that same year, about convict life in Australia, Bring Larks and Heroes. In 1968, he received the award again for his comic novel of life in a Catholic seminary, Three Cheers for the Paraclete (1968), which also won a Miles Franklin Award. This novel gained him international recognition, and it was subsequently translated into six languages. He has, since that time, been considered a novelist of international reputation.
Keneally has always had an interest in the theater and has done some acting. He was a lecturer in drama from 1969 to 1970 at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales. In 1970, he followed the pattern of many Australian writers and spent time in London, England, where A Dutiful Daughter (1971) was published; it became a Book-of-the-Month-Club choice in the United States. In 1972, one of his most admired novels, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, his study of the tragic plight of an Australian aboriginal, was published. It was later turned into a fine film in which Keneally had a small but powerful part as a priest.
From early on, Keneally has written fiction that has a strong allegiance to historical facts. His novel...
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