Descended from Irish convicts transported to Van Diemens Land (later renamed
Tasmania) during the Great Famine, Richard Flanagan was born in his native
island in 1961, the fifth of six children. He spent his childhood in the mining
town of Rosebery and left school at sixteen to work as a bush laborer. He later
attended the University of Tasmania, graduating with first class honours in
1982. The following year he was awarded a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford
University. He later worked as a laborer and river guide.
He wrote four history books before turning to fiction. His first novel, the much celebrated Death of a River Guide (1994), tells the tale of Aljaz Cosini, a guide on the Franklin River who lies drowning as he relives his life and the lives of his forbears. It won major Australian literary prizes including the 1996 National Fiction Award and was described by the Times Literary Supplement as 'one of the most auspicious debuts in Australian writing.'
His second novel, The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1997), set in the Central Highlands of Tasmania, tells the story of Slovenian immigrants. It was similarly critically acclaimed and has sold over 150,000 copies in Australia, an unprecedented figure there for a literary novel. It won the Australian Booksellers Book of the Year Award and the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction. Flanagan's first two novels, declared Kirkus Reviews, 'rank with the finest fiction out of Australia since the heyday of Patrick White.'
His third novel, Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish (2001), is set at the Macquarie Harbour Penal Station and is based on the life of Billy Gould, a convict artist who has a love affair with a young black woman in 1828. It won Best Book for the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize in the South East Asia & South Pacific Region.
In addition to Australia and the USA, his novels have been, or will be, published in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Britain, Germany, Holland, and France. He directed an acclaimed feature film based on The Sound of One Hand Clapping, which had its world premiere in competition at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Golden Bear for best film.
His recent books include The Unknown Terrorist, (2007), set in contemporary Sydney, and Wanting (2008), set in both nineteenth century Tasmania and Britain and The Narrow Road to the Deep North, for which he won The 2014 Man Booker Prize.
Richard Flanagan lives in Tasmania with his wife and three children. He is a keen canoeist, having canoed the Franklin River thirteen times, and was a member of the first expedition to canoe the Jane River and Gordon Gorge (one of his nonfiction works is A Terrible Beauty - History of the Gordon (1985).
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