Richard Flanagan

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Richard Miller Flanagan (born 1961) is a novelist from Tasmania. "Considered by many to be the finest Australian novelist of his generation", according to The Economist, each of his novels have attracted major praise and have received numerous awards and honours.[1] He also has written and directed feature films. He was longlisted for the 2014 Booker Prize.[2]

Early life[edit]

Flanagan was born in Longford, Tasmania, in 1961, the fifth of six children. He is descended from Irish convicts transported to Van Diemen's Land in the 1840s. His father is a survivor of the Burma Death Railway. One of his three brothers is Australian Rules football journalist Martin Flanagan. He grew up in the remote mining town of Rosebery on Tasmania's western coast.[3][4][5]

Flanagan left school at the age of 16. He returned to study at the University of Tasmania, where he was president of the Tasmania University Union in 1983. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours. The following year, he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship at Worcester College, Oxford, where he was admitted to the degree of Master of Letters in History.

Flanagan wrote four non-fiction works before moving to fiction, works he has called "his apprenticeship".[3][4][6] One of these was an autobiography of 'Australia's greatest con man', John Friedrich, which Flanagan ghost wrote in six weeks to make money to write his first novel. Friedrich killed himself in the middle of the book's writing and it was published posthumously. Simon Caterson, writing in The Australian, described it as "one of the least reliable but most fascinating memoirs in the annals of Australian publishing".[7]

In the foreword to Flanagan's first book, A Terrible Beauty - History of the Gordon River Country (1985), Bob Brown wrote:

"Australia has not heard the last of the Tasmanian wilderness nor, I happily predict, has it heard the last of Richard Flanagan."


His first novel, Death of a River Guide (1997), is the tale of Aljaz Cosini, river guide, who lies drowning, reliving his life and the lives of his family and forebears. It was described by The Times Literary Supplement as "one of the most auspicious debuts in Australian writing".[citation needed] His next book, The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1998), which tells the story of Slovenian immigrants, was a major bestseller, selling more than 150,000 copies in Australia alone. Flanagan's first two novels, declared Kirkus Reviews, "rank with the finest fiction out of Australia since the heyday of Patrick White".[8]

Gould's Book of Fish (2001), Flanagan’s third novel, is based on the life of William Buelow Gould, a convict artist, and tells the tale of his love affair with a young black woman in 1828. It went on to win the 2002 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Flanagan has described these early novels as 'soul histories'. His fourth novel was The Unknown Terrorist (2006), which The New York Times called "stunning ... a brilliant meditation upon the post-9/11 world".[9] His fifth novel, Wanting (2008) tells two parallel stories: about the novelist Charles Dickens in England, and Mathinna, an Aboriginal orphan adopted by Sir John Franklin, the colonial governor of Van Diemen's Land, and his wife, Lady Jane Franklin. As well as being a New Yorker Book of the Year and Observer Book of the Year, it won the Queensland Premier's Prize, the Western Australian Premier's Prize and the Tasmania Book Prize.

His most recent novel is Booker Prize nominated The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2013). The life story of Dorrigo Evans, a flawed war hero and survivor of the Death Railway, it has been hailed by The Australian as "beyond comparison ... An immense achievement" and "a masterpiece" by the The Guardian. On 23 July 2014 it was longlisted for the Booker Prize. [10]


Richard Flanagan has written on literature, the environment, art and politics for the Australian and international press including Le Monde, The Daily Telegraph (London), Suddeutsche Zeitung, the New York Times, and the New Yorker.[11] Some of his writings have proved controversial. "The Selling-out of Tasmania", published after the death of former Premier Jim Bacon in 2004, was critical of the Bacon government's relationship with corporate interests in the state. Premier Paul Lennon declared, "Richard Flanagan and his fictions are not welcome in the new Tasmania".[12]

Flanagan's 2007 essay "Gunns. Out of Control" in The Monthly,[13] first published as "Paradise Razed" in The Telegraph (London),[14] inspired Sydney businessman Geoffrey Cousins' high profile campaign to stop the building of Gunns' two billion dollar Bell Bay Pulp Mill.[15][16] Cousins reprinted 50,000 copies of the essay for letterboxing in the electorates of Australia's environment minister and opposition environment spokesperson.[17][18] Gunns subsequently collapsed with huge debt,[19] its CEO John Gay found guilty of insider trading,[20] and the pulp mill was never built. Flanagan's essay won the 2008 John Curtin Prize for Journalism.[21]

An extended essay by Flanagan on the gambler and founder of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), David Walsh, was published by The New Yorker, and later republished in Australia, Britain and Germany.[22]

A collection of his non-fiction was published as And What Do You Do, Mr Gable? (2011).


The 1998 film of The Sound of One Hand Clapping, written and directed by Flanagan, was nominated for the Golden Bear at that year's Berlin Film Festival.[23]

He worked with Baz Luhrmann as a writer on the 2008 film Australia.


Flanagan is a council member of Voiceless, the animal protection institute "[24] A painting of Richard Flanagan by artist Geoffrey Dyer won the 2003 Archibald Prize.[25] A rapid on the Franklin River, Flanagan's Surprise, is named after him.[26]






  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b "Notes for Reading Groups - Richard Flanagan". Picador Australia. 3 November 2004. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  4. ^ a b "Richard Flanagan". The British Council. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  5. ^ "Our Authors". Random House Australia. 
  6. ^ "Author Biography". 30 April 2007. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (8 May 2007). "A Misunderstanding, and a Simple Life Descends Into a Nightmare". The New York Times. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ See for example
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Flanagan, Richard (28 June 2007). "Paradise razed". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Pulp mill fight moves into MPs' backyards – Environment". The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 August 2007.
  18. ^ "Garrett hedges bets on mill – Environment". The Sydney Morning Herald. 29 August 2007.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^;;
  23. ^ "Berlinale: 1998 Programme". Retrieved 2012-01-22. 
  24. ^ "Voiceless, the animal protection institute". 
  25. ^
  26. ^ Peter Griffiths and Bruce Baxter,(2010) The Ever-Varying Flood. A History and Guide to the Franklin River. (2nd ed. Preston, Vic. ISBN 0-9586647-1-4 p.57
  27. ^ MacFarlane, Robert (26 May 2002). "Con fishing". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  28. ^ Review of Gould's Book of Fish
  29. ^ The Unknown Terrorist official site
  30. ^ Transcript of interview with Ramona Koval on The Book Show, ABC Radio National on his novel "Wanting", 12/11/2008
  31. ^, Video: Interview with Richard Flanagan about Wanting and Baz Luhrmann's Australia
  32. ^ Official Australian Wanting book website
  33. ^ Boyd, William (28 June 2009). "Saints and Savages". The New York Times. 
  34. ^ Williams, MIchael (26 September 2013). "Dinner with Richard Flanagan, a child of the death railway". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  35. ^ Williamson, Geordie (28 September 2013). "Poetry without a shred of pity". The Australian. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  36. ^ "A terrible beauty : history of the Gordon River country / Richard Flanagan". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  37. ^ "The Rest of the world is watching". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  38. ^ "Codename Iago : the story of John Friedrich : by John Friedrich with Richard Flanagan". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  39. ^ "Richard Flanagan". 20 December 2004. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  40. ^

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