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Thomas Keneally | Biography

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Thomas Keneally, born on October 7, 1935, is one of Australia's best-known and most prolific writers. He is known for writing novels that examine critical historical periods through the lens of personal stories. Since the release of his first novel, The Place at Whitton, in 1964, he has published dozens of novels as well as nonfiction, essays, and screenplays. He first achieved recognition for his writing in 1967 with the publication of his third novel, Bring Larks and Heroes, which won the Miles Franklin Award, a prestigious Australian literary honor. He is the first Australian writer to ever win a Booker Prize, Britain's most prestigious literary honor, which he was awarded for 1982's Schindler's List.

Although neither of Keneally's Irish Catholic parents completed their education, Keneally's mother encouraged her young son's love of books. The household where Keneally grew up was devoutly Catholic, and as a child Keneally attended Catholic school. Keneally's interest in World War II, which is reflected in several of his works, is rooted in his own life experiences. Following his father's enlistment in the air force in 1942, Keneally's family moved to Sydney. In preparation for a potential attack by Japanese forces, young Keneally and his schoolmates routinely practiced air-raid evacuation procedures, crowding into a space beneath the high altar inside a local church. Keneally was aware of the racist attitudes toward refugees and immigrants held by some of his fellow Australians, occupants of a vast island-continent near Southeast Asia but overwhelmingly white and Christian. Although he was raised Catholic, Keneally was also very interested in Judaism as well as in the general phenomenon of moral ambiguity in life.

As a teenager, Keneally entered the Roman Catholic seminary, but he left before being ordained. After his stint in seminary, Keneally spent a few years teaching high school in Sydney and studying to be a lawyer. During these years, Keneally decided instead that he wanted to be a writer. He sent his first, unsolicited manuscript to a publisher, and it was accepted and published in 1964. The book, The Place at Whitton, is a murder mystery set in a seminary. Its warm reception by critics encouraged Keneally to embark on a career as a writer. Since then, Keneally's literary output has been steadily prolific.

Keneally published Schindler's List, his best-known work, in 1982. That same year Schindler's List was awarded Britain's prestigious Booker McConnell Prize for fiction, an honor that surprised even Keneally, given that he and his publishers consider the book to be a nonfiction narrative. Director Steven Spielberg's 1993 film adaptation won an Academy Award for Best Picture.

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