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Thomas Keneally

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Subject: Australian literature, Miles Franklin Award, Peter Carey (novelist), The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (film), Ronald McKie
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Thomas Keneally

Thomas Keneally
Keneally at the premiere of the film Brave at the Sydney Film Festival, 11 June 2012
Born Thomas Michael Keneally
(1935-10-07) 7 October 1935
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation Novelist
Nationality Australia
Genre Novels
Notable awards Booker Prize
Thomas Keneally's voice
Recorded December 2007 from the BBC Radio 4 programme Bookclub

Thomas Michael ("Mick") Keneally, AO (born 7 October 1935) is an Australian novelist, playwright and author of non-fiction. He is best known for writing Schindler's Ark, the Booker Prize-winning novel of 1982 which was inspired by the efforts of Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor. The book would later be adapted to Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Life and career

Born in Sydney, Keneally was educated at St Patrick's College, Strathfield. Subsequently, a writing prize there has been named after him. He entered St Patrick's Seminary, Manly to train as a Catholic priest. Although he was ordained as a deacon while at the seminary he left without being ordained to the priesthood. He worked as a Sydney schoolteacher before his success as a novelist and was a lecturer at the University of New England (1968–70). He has also written screenplays, memoirs and non-fiction books.

Keneally was known as "Mick" until 1964 but began using the name Thomas when he started publishing, after advice from his publisher to use what was really his first name.[1] He is most famous for his Schindler's Ark (1982) (later republished as Schindler's List), which won the Booker Prize and is the basis of the film Schindler's List. Many of his novels are reworkings of historical material, although modern in their psychology and style.

Keneally has also acted in a handful of films. He had a small role in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (based on his novel) and played Father Marshall in the award-winning Fred Schepisi film The Devil's Playground (1976).[2]

In 1983 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).[3] He is an Australian Living Treasure.

Keneally was a visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine(UCI) where he taught the graduate fiction workshop for one quarter in 1985. From 1991 to 1995, he was a visiting professor in the writing program at UCI.[4]

He is a strong advocate of an Australian republic, meaning the abolition of the Australian monarchy, and published a book on the subject Our Republic in 1993. Several of his Republican essays appear on the web site of the Australian Republican Movement.

Keneally is a keen supporter of rugby league football,[5] in particular the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles club of the NRL. in 2004 he gave the sixth annual Tom Brock Lecture.[6] He made an appearance in the 2007 rugby league drama film The Final Winter.[7]

In March 2009, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, gave an autographed copy of Keneally's biography Lincoln to President Barack Obama as a state gift.[8]

Most recently Keneally featured as a writer in the critically acclaimed Australian drama Our Sunburnt Country.

Keneally's nephew Ben is married to the former Premier of New South Wales, Kristina Keneally who is now the CEO of Basketball Australia.

The Tom Keneally Centre opened in August 2011 at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, housing Keneally's books and memorabilia. The site is used for book launches, readings and writing classes.[9]


Man Booker Prize The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, shortlisted 1972
Gossip from the Forest, shortlisted 1975
Confederates, shortlisted 1979
Schindler's Ark, winner 1982
Miles Franklin Award Bring Larks and Heroes, winner 1967
Three Cheers for the Paraclete, winner 1968
An Angel in Australia, shortlisted 2003
The Widow and Her Hero, longlisted 2008
Prime Minister's Literary Awards The Widow and Her Hero, shortlisted 2008
New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Special Award, winner 2008
Helmerich Award Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, 2007

Schindler's Ark

Keneally wrote the Booker Prize-winning novel in 1982, inspired by the efforts of Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor. In 1980 Pfefferberg met Keneally in his shop, and learning that he was a novelist, showed him his extensive files on Oskar Schindler. Keneally was interested, and Pfefferberg became an advisor for the book, accompanying Keneally to Poland where they visited Kraków and the sites associated with the Schindler story. Keneally dedicated Schindler's Ark to Pfefferberg: "who by zeal and persistence caused this book to be written." He said in an interview in 2007 that what attracted him to Oskar Schindler was that "it was the fact that you couldn't say where opportunism ended and altruism began. And I like the subversive fact that the spirit breatheth where it will. That is, that good will emerged from the most unlikely places".[1] The book was later made into a film titled Schindler's List (1993) directed by Steven Spielberg, earning the director his first Best Director Oscar. Keneally's meeting with Pfefferberg and their research tours are detailed in Searching for Schindler: A Memoir (2007). Some of the Pfefferberg documents that inspired Keneally are now housed in the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney.[10] In 1996 the State Library purchased this material from a private collector.[11] In April 2009 a copy of the list (including 801 names) was found in the documentation Thomas Keneally used as research material for his novel.


Keneally at the Miami Book Fair International, 1999





  • "Irish Escape". Secrets of the Dead. 2008-06-04. PBS. Thirteen.


  1. ^ a b "Tom Keneally, interviewed by Peter Thompson", Talking Heads, ABC-TV, 30 July 2007. Accessed: 2007-10-11
  2. ^
  3. ^ It's an Honour
  4. ^ McClellan, Dennis (26 Sep 1994). "Keneally to Leave UCI for Home". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  5. ^ Toby Creswell and Samantha Trenoweth (2006). 1001 Australians You Should Know. Australia: Pluto Press. p. 136.  
  6. ^ Tom Brock Lecture at the Australian Society for Sports History's website
  7. ^ FitzSimons, Peter (20 October 2007). "The Fitz Files".  
  8. ^ Obama lauds Rudd
  9. ^ "A library he calls his own".  
  10. ^ "Schindler's List found in Sydney". BBC News. 6 April 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2010. 
  11. ^ (In Spanish)


  • Australian Biography website, including video interviews (and transcripts)

External links

  • Tom Keneally at Random House Australia
  • Life and Works of Thomas Keneally
  • Australian Republican Movement web site. Search for "Keneally".
  • Wonders of the Ross Sea Thomas Keneally recalls his voyages to Antarctica
  • 1983, 1989, 1991, 1993 RealAudio interviews with Thomas Keneally at Wired for by Don Swaim
  • Radio interview with Michael Silverblatt
  • , 2 January 2000.The Great Shame and the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World interview with Keneally on BooknotesPart One of
    • , 9 January 2000.The Great Shame interview with Keneally on BooknotesPart Two of
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