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Why would anyone want to explore the most notable pieces of Australian literature, when there is Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, and all those books by Paulo Coelho? – Because your life would be much emptier without them. Although Australian authors paid respects to their European heritage for a long time, this continent gave birth to distinct literature that’s worth reading.
You don’t know where to start? The following interesting facts about top Australian writers will give you a hint.
1. Bryce Courtenay was a successful advertising executive, who became one of the best-selling authors in Australia as soon as he started writing novels after his 50th birthday. The plot of his first book, The Power of One, is set in his home country – South Africa, and is focused on conveying the main character’s feelings and thoughts instead of describing actions, events, and places.
Courtenay’s son Damon, who suffered from haemophilia, acquired AIDS from contaminated blood transfusion. This tragedy led to the creation of another best-seller, April Fool’s Day, which transformed the public perception of AIDS and became a compulsory reading in several medical schools.
After his death in 2012, Bryce Courtenay was acknowledged as the biggest-selling author of the past two decades. The Power of One, whose plot was drawn from his own life, remains his most notable work, which mesmerizes the readers with psychology, mysticism, magic, adventures, drama, violence, and suspense through Peekay’s story.
2. Colleen McCullough is an inevitable addition to any list of famous Australian writers. She is best known for her book The Thorn Birds, which achieved huge success all over the world through its adaptation in television miniseries. Although the miniseries was praised by the public and won a Golden Globe Award in 1983, McCullough did not earn any literary awards for the book itself.
Tim, the first book by this author, also received its film adaptation with Mel Gibson in the lead role.
Since McCullough novels are interwoven with romance, tragedy, and emotions, her profession as neuroscientist is rather surprising. After the international success of The Thorn Birds, she gave up her medical-scientific career and devoted herself to writing.
Here is another interesting fact: The Thorn Birds, one of the most famous Australian books of all time, was actually written in New Haven, Connecticut, during the years when McCullough worked as a researcher and teacher at the Yale medical School.
3. Markus Zusak is a young writer who achieved great success with the international bestsellers The Book Thief and The Messenger. The Book Thief is an astonishing book that has been translated in over forty languages. Although it belongs in the young adult genre, it touched the hearts of all generations. Believe it or not, this talented author has troubles writing his autobiography, since he doesn’t find his life inspiring enough.
We can see his lack of confidence in another fact: he reworked the first 90 pages of The Book Thief almost 200 times. His diligence is a proof that brilliant writers are rarely satisfied by their work, although they manage to hypnotize millions of readers all over the world.
In his free time, Markus Zusak enjoys playing soccer and surfing, just like any other proud Australian. Although he achieved great fame through his work, he remains humble and unnoticeable in public.
4. Peter Carey is among the three writers who have won the Booker Prize twice, along with Hilary Mantel and J. M. Coetzee (who can also be considered as an Australian writer now, since he lives in Adelaide). In addition to the Booker Prize, Peter Carey has also won the Miles Franklin Award three times, and has great chances of being named as the next Australian contender for the great Nobel Prize in Literature.
After graduating from Monash University in 1961, Carey worked as an advertising copywriter. Morris Lurie and Barry Oakley inspired him to become seriously devoted to fiction writing.
His most famous work has to be Oscar and Lucinda, which won the Booker Prize in 1998. The novel was made into a movie with Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett in the leading roles. Lucinda, as the first major film role for Cate Blanchett, launched her to international fame.
5. Tim Winton is one of the most prolific Australian novelists. He knew he was going to be a writer by the age of 10, and published An Open Swimmer, his first novel, when he was twenty-two years old. His friendly nature and inclination toward outdoor activities gave him a never-ending supply of anecdotes that attract teenage readers.
Self-proclaimed literature appreciators avoid reading Tim Winton due to his popularity among the young adult audience. However, his work is not deprived of existential questions, serious emotions, and impressionable characters.
Winton won Miles Franklin Award for Shallows, the second novel he wrote. Since this is the most prestigious literary prize in Australia, it’s clear that the public and critics recognized the potential of this young author in his earliest work.
The Riders and Dirt Music, novels that were shortlisted for the Booker Prize, are currently being adapted for film. If you want to explore Winton’s work, you’ll have a huge selection of novels. The best place to start would be Cloudstreet, the book that makes a regular appearance on top lists of Australian novels.
6. Alexis Wright is one of the most notable Indigenous Australian writers. Her famous novel Carpentaria won the Miles Franklin Award in 2006. Wright got the attention of literary critics with the first book she published – Plains of Promise, which was nominated for several awards.
It took two years for Wright to conceptualize Carpentaria, and over six years to write it. Although the novel was rejected by several Australian publishers, it achieved huge success as soon as the readers got their hands on it in 2006.
The Swan Book, a novel published in 2013, conveys the author’s narrative powers in their full glory. Wright is known for mixing genres, as well as expressions from Aboriginal languages, English, Latin, and French. The Swan Book is a funny and inspiring read, but it’s also one of the saddest love stories you will ever read.
Alexis Wright is a land rights activist and a Distinguished Research Fellow at the University of Western Sydney.