Murray-Smith was born in Mount Eliza, Victoria; her father was the literary editor and academic Stephen Murray-Smith (1922–1988). She attended Toorak College and graduated with a BA (Hons) from the University of Melbourne. On a Rotary International Scholarship in 1995, Murray-Smith attended the writing program at Columbia University, New York. In 2003, she took a sabbatical in Italy. She is married to husband Raymond Gill and has two sons Sam and Charlie, and a daughter Lucie.
Many of Murray-Smith's plays have been performed around the world. Honour has been produced in more than three dozen countries, including productions on Broadway and at the Royal National Theatre in London.
Honour was created in 1995 when Murray-Smith was studying in the writing program at Columbia University in New York. There, the play's first public appearance was in a reading with Meryl Streep, Sam Waterston and Kyra Sedgwick. The play was then performed at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway in 1998 with Jane Alexander, Robert Foxworth, Laura Linney and Enid Graham; it earned Tony Award nominations for Alexander and Graham. It was performed at London's Royal National Theatre with Eileen Atkins who won best actress in the Laurence Olivier Awards for the role. Its West End performance took place at Wyndham's Theatre in 2006 with Diana Rigg, Martin Jarvis and Natascha McElhone.
Ridge's Lovers was performed in New York under the direction of Brian Leahy Doyle. Honour, Nightfall, Rapture, Ninety and Day One, a Hotel, Evening have all had staged readings or productions at the annual New York Stage and Film Festival at Vassar College.
The Female of the Species, based on events in the life of Germaine Greer, opened in the West End at the Vaudeville Theatre in July 2008, directed by Roger Michell and starring Eileen Atkins. A Broadway production, originally planned for 2008 with Annette Bening was postponed. It was nominated for best comedy in the 2009 Olivier Awards. In February and March 2010, the play was staged at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles with David Arquette and Annette Bening. Charles Isherwood of The New York Times wrote about this production: "The Female of the Species is not just antifeminist. In its depiction of women as variously pompous, deluded, self-obsessed, hypocritical, sexually obsequious or just plain crazy, it comes closer to being antifemale."
The plays and novels of Murray-Smith have been translated and performed widely around the world. According to the Australia Council, Joanna Murray-Smith and Daniel Keene account for half of all foreign productions of Australian plays. However, Murray-Smith feels that within Australia, and especially at the Sydney Theatre Company, her work and that of other Australian writers, e.g. David Williamson's, is insufficiently supported.
- Angry Young Penguins (1987) (see also: Ern Malley)
- Atlanta (1990)
- Love Child (1993)
- Ridge's Lovers (1993)
- Flame (1994)
- Honour (1995)
- Redemption (1997)
- Nightfall (1999)
- Rapture (2002)
- Bombshells (2004, written for Caroline O'Connor)
- The Female of the Species (2006)
- Ninety (August 2008 at the Melbourne Theatre Company)
- Scenes from a Marriage (January 2008, based on the 1973 Bergman film)
- Rockabye (August 2009, Melbourne Theatre Company)
- Songs for Nobodies (November 2010, Melbourne Theatre Company, written for Bernadette Robinson)
- The Gift (June 2011)
- Day One, a Hotel, Evening (November 2011, Red Stitch Actors Theatre Melbourne)
- True Minds (2013, Melbourne Theatre Company)
- Fury (2013, Sydney Theatre Company)
- Switzerland, (2014, Sydney Theatre Company)
- Pennsylvania Avenue (2014, Melbourne Theatre Company, written for Bernadette Robinson)
- Truce (1994) ISBN 978-0-14-015252-4
- Judgement Rock (2002) ISBN 978-0-14-025429-7
- Sunnyside (2005) ISBN 978-0-14-300536-0
- The poems of Ern Malley (ed) ISBN 978-0-04-150088-2 (1988)
- Georgia, (film, 1988)
- Cassidy (1989, for ABC Television) (after the novel by Morris West)
- "Mimi Goes to the Analyst" in Six Pack (1992, for SBS TV)
- "Greed" in Seven Deadly Sins (1993, for ABC Television)
- Lyrics to a song cycle about Harold Holt, music by Paul Grabowsky
- Janus: episodes "Fit to Plead", "An Unnatural Act", "A Prima Facie Case" (1995, for ABC Television)
- Libretto to the opera Love in the Age of Therapy (2002) by Paul Grabowsky for Opera Australia, Melbourne Festival and Sydney Festival.
- Libretto to The Divorce (2015, for ABC Television)
- Australian Film Institute Award nomination in 1989 for the screenplay to Georgia (shared with Ben Lewin, Bob Weis).
- Braille Book of the Year for Judgement Rock
- Victorian Premier's Literary Award: Southbank Pacific Prize for Drama for Honour in 1996
- Victorian Premier's Literary Award: Louis Esson Prize for Drama for Rapture in 2003
- Winner 2004 Fringe First Award, Edinburgh Festival Fringe for Bombshells
- International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award nomination in 2004 for Judgement Rock
- Winner 2005 London Theatregoers Choice Award for Bombshells
- Final list of twelve of the Miles Franklin Award in 2006 for Sunnyside
- Co-winner New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards (Play Award) 2012 for The Gift
- "Famous alumni on Latham's hit list". Crikey. 30 March 2005. Retrieved 17 February 2008.
- "Prominent Alumni". University of Melbourne. Retrieved 17 February 2008.
- A. Dunlap-Smith (12 June 1998). "Homework in Writing Program Becomes a Play on Broadway". Columbia University Record, Vol. 23, No. 24. Columbia University in the City of New York. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
- Murray-Smith, Joanna (11 May 2003). "(Column for The Age)". The Age. Retrieved 18 February 2008.[dead link]
- Murray-Smith, Joanna (7 August 2006). "Life, love and betrayal". The Age. Archived from the original on 3 September 2007. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
- Sullivan, Jane (16 August 2008). "Scenes from a survivor". The Age. Retrieved 6 September 2008.
- Fourteen of the plays have been published by Currency Press (Australia) and others have been published by Nick Hern Books (UK) and Dramatist Play Service (US).
"Murray-Smith, Joanna". AustLit. 27 June 2006. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
- "Honour". Internet Broadway Database. 1998. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
- "Honour". The Society of London Theatre. 2006. Retrieved 18 February 2008.[dead link]
- "Brian Doyle". St. Cloud State University. 27 September 2007. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
- "Scenes from a Marriage". The Belgrade Theatre. 2008. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
- "Greer mad at 'insane' writer's play", The Sunday Times reprinted in The Australian, 14 July 2008
- Gans, Andrew (31 January 2008). "Broadway Engagement of Female of the Species Postponed". Playbill. Retrieved 5 September 2008.
- Vaudeville Theatre listing
- Isherwood, Charles (1 March 2010). "She's So Under the Gun, She Can't Leave Her Desk". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
- "Female of the Species to Star Annette Bening on Broadway". Australian Stage Online. 14 June 2007. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
- Leach, Pier (26 April 2007). "Perth to meet bombshell". The West Australian. Retrieved 18 February 2008.[dead link]
- Croggon, Alison (8 February 2008). "More bubble bath than kitchen sink". The Australian. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
- "Ninety". Melbourne Theatre Company. 2008. Retrieved 6 August 2008.
- "The play's the thing for Australian writer Joanna Murray-Smith" by Rosemary Neil, The Australian (12 November 2011)
- "Joanna Murray-Smith on Fury" by Joel Meares, Time Out Sydney, 18 April 2013
- Switzerland, performance details November/December 2014, Sydney Theatre Company
- Middleton, Carol (December 2002). "Interview". Retrieved 18 February 2008.
- "The Divorce: Putting the Opera into the Soap" by Andrew Aronowicz, Limelight, 1 December 2015
- "The 2004 Award". Dublin City Public Libraries. 2004. Retrieved 18 February 2008.