Thomas Keneally

Keneally at the premiere of the film Brave at the Sydney Film Festival on 11 June 2012
Keneally at the premiere of the film Brave at the Sydney Film Festival on 11 June 2012
BornThomas Michael Keneally
(1935-10-07) 7 October 1935 (age 86)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Notable awardsBooker Prize
SpouseJudy Martin (m. 1965)
Thomas Keneally's voice (0:35) Recorded December 2007 from the BBC Radio 4 programme Bookclub

Thomas Michael Keneally, AO (born 7 October 1935) is an Australian novelist, playwright, essayist and actor. He is best known for his non-fiction novel Schindler's Ark, the story of Oskar Schindler's rescue of Jews during the Holocaust, which won the Booker Prize in 1982. The book would later be adapted into director Steven Spielberg's 1993 film Schindler's List, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Early life

Both Keneally's parents (Edmund Thomas Keneally and Elsie Margaret Coyle) were born to Irish fathers in the timber and dairy town of Kempsey, New South Wales, and, though born in Sydney, his early years were also spent in Kempsey.[1] His father, Edmund Thomas Keneally, flew for the Royal Australian Air Force in World War II, then returned to work in a small business in Sydney. By 1942, the family had moved to 7 Loftus Crescent, Homebush, a suburb in the inner west of Sydney and Keneally was enrolled at Christian Brothers St Patrick's College, Strathfield. Shortly after, his brother John was born. Keneally studied Honours English for his Leaving Certificate in 1952, under Brother James Athanasius McGlade, and won a Commonwealth scholarship.[2]

Keneally then entered St Patrick's Seminary, Manly, to train as a Catholic priest. Although he was ordained as a deacon while at the seminary, after six years there he left in a state of depression and 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).[2]

Keneally was known as "Mick" until 1964 but began using the name Thomas when he started publishing, after advice from his publisher to use his real first name.[1]


Keneally's first story was published in The Bulletin magazine in 1962 under the pseudonym Bernard Coyle.[2] By February 2014, he had written over 50 books, including 30 novels.[3] He is particularly famed for his Schindler's Ark (1982) (later republished as Schindler's List), the first novel by an Australian to win the Booker Prize and is the basis of the film Schindler's List. He had already been shortlisted for the Booker three times prior to that: 1972 for The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, 1975 for Gossip from the Forest, and 1979 for Confederates.[4]

Many of his novels are reworkings of historical material, although modern in their psychology and style.

Premièred at London's Royal Court Theatre, the play Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker is based on Keneally's book The Playmaker. In it, convicts deported from Britain to the Empire's penal colony of Australia perform George Farquhar's Restoration comedy The Recruiting Officer set in the English town of Shrewsbury. Artistic Director Max Stafford-Clark wrote about his experiences of staging the plays in repertoire in his book Letters to George.

Keneally has also acted in a handful of films. He had a small role in Fred Schepisi's The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) (based on his own novel) and played Father Marshall in the award-winning film The Devil's Playground (1976), also by Schepisi.[5]

In 1983, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).[6] He is an Australian Living Treasure.

Keneally was a member of the Literature Board of the Australia Council from 1985 to 1988 and President of the National Book Council from 1985 to 1989.[2]

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.[7]

In 2006, Peter Pierce, Professor of Australian Literature, James Cook University, wrote:[2]

Keneally can sometimes seem the nearest that we have to a Balzac of our literature; he is in his own rich and idiosyncratic ways the author of an Australian 'human comedy'.

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.[8]

Keneally is an ambassador of the Asylum Seekers Centre, a not-for-profit that provides personal and practical support to people seeking asylum in Australia.[9]

Personal life

Keneally married Judy Martin, then a nurse, in 1965, and they had two daughters, Margaret and Janet.[10][2]

Keneally was the founding chairman (1991–93) of the Australian Republic Movement[4] and published a book on the subject Our Republic in 1993. Several of his Republican essays appear on the website of the movement. He is also a keen supporter of rugby league football,[11] in particular the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles club of the NRL. In 2004, he gave the sixth annual Tom Brock Lecture.[12] He made an appearance in the 2007 rugby league drama film The Final Winter.[13]

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.[14]

Keneally's nephew Ben is married to the deputy leader of the Australian Labor Party, Senator Kristina Keneally. She is also a former Premier of New South Wales and Sky News Australia newscaster.

Schindler's Ark

Main article: Schindler's Ark

Keneally wrote the Booker Prize-winning novel in 1982, inspired by the efforts of Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor. In 1980, Keneally met Pfefferberg in the latter's shop, and learning that he was a novelist, Pfefferberg showed him his extensive files on Oskar Schindler, including the original list itself.[15] 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 emerge 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.[16] In 1996 the State Library purchased this material from a private collector.[17]


Keneally has been awarded honorary doctorates including one from the National University of Ireland.[4]

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


This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (October 2020)


The Monsarrat series, co-authored with Meg Keneally





  1. ^ a b c "Tom Keneally". Talking Heads. ABC. 30 July 2007. Archived from the original on 19 March 2011. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Peter Pierce, ed. (2006). "Thomas Keneally, A Celebration" (PDF). Canberra, Australia: Friends of the National Library of Australia. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  3. ^ Marks, Kathy (17 February 2014). "Thomas Keneally: 'I hope no one says Australia was born at Gallipoli'". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  4. ^ a b c "Q&A Panellist Tom Keneally". ABC. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  5. ^ "Interview – Thomas Keneally".
  6. ^ "It's an Honour – Honours – Search Australian Honours".
  7. ^ McClellan, Dennis (26 September 1994). "Keneally to Leave UCI for Home". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
  8. ^ "A library he calls his own". The Sydney Morning Herald. Australia. 24 July 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  9. ^ "Our ambassadors". Asylum Seekers Centre. Retrieved 13 December 2020.
  10. ^ Steggall, Stephany Evans (26 September 2015). "Interestingly enough … The life of Tom Keneally, and his women". The Weekend Australian. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  11. ^ Toby Creswell; Samantha Trenoweth (2006). 1001 Australians You Should Know. Australia: Pluto Press. p. 136. ISBN 1-86403-361-4.
  12. ^ Tom Brock Lecture Archived 18 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine at the Australian Society for Sports History's website
  13. ^ FitzSimons, Peter (20 October 2007). "The Fitz Files". The Sydney Morning Herald. Australia. Retrieved 2 October 2010.
  14. ^ "Obama lauds Rudd in 'meeting of the minds'". The Age.
  15. ^ Walton, James (7 October 2015). "Thomas Keneally: I wanted to be recognised by the Poms". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  16. ^ "Schindler's List found in Sydney". BBC News. 6 April 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2010.
  17. ^ (In Spanish)
  18. ^ "Daunting, haunting task for an author with a story to tell".
  19. ^ "The Survivor". IMDB.
  20. ^ "Silver City". IMDB.
  21. ^ "The Fremantle Conspiracy". IMDB.


Further reading