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Shirley Hazzard: A Writing Life

Brigitta Olubas

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Biography: literary

Keynote

49

At last - the authorised biography of Shirley Hazzard, one of the greatest writers in the English language, author of The Great Fire, The Transit of Venus and Greene on Capri, winner of the National Book Award, the Miles Franklin Award and shortlisted for The Women's Prize for Fiction

'Hazzard's marvellous, luminous writing I discovered only recently; now I don't know how I ever managed to get along without it' - Sarah Waters

Born and raised in Sydney Australia, Hazzard lived around the world: in Hong Kong; Wellington, New Zealand; New York; Naples and Capri and her writing -- cosmopolitan, richly intelligent, beautiful, questing -- reflects her life. Her body of work is small but the acclaim it attracts is immeasurable, from among others, Michael Cunningham, Zoe Heller, Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler, Lauren Goff, Hermione Lee, Joan Didion, Richard Ford, Colm Toibin.

At sixteen, she was living in Hong Kong with her family and working for the British Combined Services. She later worked, another desk job, for the United Nations in New York and, briefly, in Naples. Italy -- Capri and Naples -- claimed her heart and after she was married -- she was introduced to the biographer, Francis Steegmuller by Muriel Spark -- they divided their time between Italy and America.

Drawing on diaries, letters, interviews alongside a close reading of Hazzard's fiction -- Brigitta Olubas, herself Australian -- tells the story of a girl from the suburbs 'with a head full of poetry' who fell early under the spell of words and sought out first books and then people who loved books as her companions. In the process she transformed and indeed created her life. She became a woman of the world who felt injustice keenly, a deep and original thinker, who wrote some of the most beautiful fiction about love and longing, always with an eye to the ways we reveal ourselves to another.

This, the definitive biography uncovers the truths and myths and about Shirley Hazzard's life and work, which come together at the point, as Brigitta Olubas observes: 'where the writer lives'.

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