Peter Carey (novelist)

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Peter Carey

BornPeter Philip Carey
(1943-05-07) 7 May 1943 (age 79)
Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia
OccupationNovelist, creative writing teacher
Notable worksOscar and Lucinda,
True History of the Kelly Gang
Notable awardsBooker Prize
1988, 2001
Peter Carey signature (cropped).jpg

Peter Philip Carey AO (born 7 May 1943) is an Australian novelist. Carey has won the Miles Franklin Award three times and is frequently named as Australia's next contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.[1] Carey is one of only five writers to have won the Booker Prize twice—the others being J. G. Farrell, J. M. Coetzee, Hilary Mantel and Margaret Atwood.[2] Carey won his first Booker Prize in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda, and won for the second time in 2001 with True History of the Kelly Gang.[3] In May 2008 he was nominated for the Best of the Booker Prize.[4]

In addition to writing fiction, he collaborated on the screenplay of the film Until the End of the World with Wim Wenders and is executive director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York.[5]

Early life and career: 1943–1970[edit]

Peter Carey was born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, in 1943. His parents ran a General Motors dealership, Carey Motors. He attended Bacchus Marsh State School from 1948 to 1953, then boarded at Geelong Grammar School between 1954 and 1960. In 1961, Carey enrolled in a science degree at the new Monash University in Melbourne, majoring in chemistry and zoology, but cut his studies short because of a car accident and a lack of interest. It was at university that he met his first wife, Leigh Weetman, who was studying German and philosophy, and who also dropped out.[6]

In 1962, he began to work in advertising. He was employed by various Melbourne agencies between 1962 and 1967, including on campaigns for Volkswagen and Lindeman's Wine.[7] His advertising work brought him into contact with older writers who introduced him to recent European and American fiction: "I didn't really start getting an education until I worked in advertising with people like Barry Oakley and Morris Lurie—and Bruce Petty had an office next door."[8]

During this time, he read widely, particularly the works of Samuel Beckett, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, and Gabriel García Márquez, and began writing on his own, receiving his first rejection slip in 1964, the same year he married Weetman.[9] Over the next few years he wrote five novels—Contacts (1964–1965), Starts Here, Ends Here (1965–1967), The Futility Machine (1966–1967), Wog (1969), and Adventures on Board the Marie [sic] Celeste (1971). None of them were published. Sun Books accepted The Futility Machine but did not proceed with publication, and Adventures on Board the Marie Celeste was accepted by Outback Press before being withdrawn by Carey himself.[10] These and other unpublished manuscripts from the period—including twenty-one short stories—are now held by the Fryer Library at the University of Queensland.[11]

Carey's only publications during the 1960s were "Contacts" (a short extract from the unpublished novel of the same name, in Under Twenty-Five: An Anthology, 1966) and "She Wakes" (a short story, in Australian Letters, 1967). Towards the end of the decade, Carey and Weetman abandoned Australia with "a certain degree of self-hatred",[12] travelling through Europe and Iran before settling in London in 1968, where Carey continued to write highly regarded advertising copy and unpublished fiction.

Middle career: 1970–1990[edit]

Returning to Australia in 1970, Carey once again did advertising work in Melbourne and Sydney. He also kept writing, and gradually broke through with editors, publishing short stories in magazines and newspapers such as Meanjin and Nation Review. Most of these were collected in his first book, The Fat Man in History, which appeared in 1974. In the same year Carey moved to Balmain in Sydney to work for Grey Advertising.

In 1976, Carey moved to Queensland and joined an alternative community named Starlight in Yandina, north of Brisbane, with his new partner, the painter Margot Hutcheson, with whom he lived in the 1970s and 1980s. He remained with Grey, writing in Yandina for three weeks, then spending the fourth week at the agency in Sydney. It was during this time that he produced most of the stories collected in War Crimes (1979), as well as Bliss (1981), his first published novel.[13]

Carey started his own advertising agency in 1980, the Sydney-based McSpedden Carey Advertising Consultants, in partnership with Bani McSpedden. After many years of separation, Leigh Weetman asked for a divorce in 1980 so that she could remarry and Peter agreed. In 1981, he moved to Bellingen in northern New South Wales. There he wrote Illywhacker, published in 1985.[14] In the same year he married theatre director Alison Summers. Illusion, a stage musical Carey wrote with Mike Mullins and composer Martin Armiger, was performed at the 1986 Adelaide Festival of the Arts and a studio cast recording of the musical was nominated for a 1987 ARIA Award (for which Carey as lyricist was nominated).[15][16]

The decade—and the Australian phase of Carey's career—culminated with the publication of Oscar and Lucinda (1988), which won the Booker McConnell Prize (as it was then known) and brought the author international recognition. Carey explained that the novel was inspired, in part, by his time in Bellingen:

I was living in Bellingen in the country. And the little church was down the road, and they wanted to take it away, zip: and I looked at that landscape and I thought – only 200 years ago this was a landscape that was full of Aboriginal stories. So I thought about a moment when that church that I knew, which was being removed from my landscape, might have arrived. I wanted it to arrive intact, whole. And I thought it would come on a barge. And, this is a totally irrational thought, it’s like a dream. I wanted this church, a wooden church, just what I saw, a church in that valley, to come along the Bellingen River on a barge gliding like a dream into the landscape.[17]

Move to New York: 1990–present[edit]

Carey sold his share of McSpedden Carey and in 1990 moved with Alison Summers and their son to New York, where he took a job teaching creative writing at New York University. He later said that New York would not have been his first choice of place to live, and that moving there was his wife's idea.[18] Carey and Summers divorced in 2005 after a four-year separation.[19] Carey is now married to the British-born publisher Frances Coady.[20][21][22]

The Tax Inspector (1991), begun in Australia, was the first book he completed in the United States. It was followed by The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994), a fable in which he explored the relationship between Australia and America, disguised in the novel as "Efica" and "Voorstand". This is a relationship that has preoccupied him throughout his career, going back to Bliss (1981), Illywhacker (1985), and the early short stories. Nevertheless, Carey continued to set his fiction primarily in Australia and remained diffident about writing explicitly on American themes. In a piece on True History of the Kelly Gang (2001), Mel Gussow reported that:

Periodically he has thought about writing an American-based novel, and he had started one dealing with litigation. But he put it aside for Ned Kelly. Explaining why he continues to set most of his books in Australia, he recalled that one of his students said, "When you change countries you lose your peripheral vision." In that sense, his view of America is still limited. Writing about Australia—its history and its heroes—his perspective is wide and deep.[23]

It was only after nearly two decades in the United States that he embarked on Parrot and Olivier in America (2010), loosely based on events in the life of Alexis de Tocqueville. Carey says "Tocqueville opened a door I could enter. I saw the present in the past. It was accessible, imaginable."[24] Carey continues to extend his canvas; in his novel, The Chemistry of Tears (2012), "contemporary London is brought intimately in touch with ... a 19th-century Germany redolent of the Brothers Grimm".[25]


In 1998, Carey was accused of snubbing Queen Elizabeth II by declining an invitation to meet her after winning the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Jack Maggs (1997). While Carey is a republican, in the Australian sense, he insists that no offence was intended:

What happened, he explains, was that he had already been in England recently for a literary festival; he is booked for another trip soon, and had been travelling so much that he asked the prize organisers, "Would it be possible to see Her Majesty when I was actually in London?" "They thought it would be better just to cancel than for me to ask Her Majesty to do that. Then all this stuff started going out in English tabloids."[26]

The meeting did eventually take place, with the Queen remarking, according to Carey, "I believe you had a little trouble getting here."[27]

The unhappy circumstances of Carey's break-up with Alison Summers received publicity (largely in Australia) in 2006 when Theft: A Love Story appeared, depicting the toxic relationship between its protagonist, Butcher Bones, and his ex-wife, known only as "the Plaintiff".[28]

In April 2015 he, alongside Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi, withdrew from the PEN American Center gala honouring the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo with its "Freedom of Expression Courage" award.[29] He stated that one of his reasons for doing so was "PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognise its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population."[30] In addition, 204[31] PEN members, including Teju Cole and Deborah Eisenberg,[32] wrote to PEN, objecting to its decision to give the award to Charlie Hebdo.

Awards and distinctions[edit]

Carey has been awarded three honorary degrees.[33] He has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (1989), an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities (2001),[34] a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2003),[35] and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2016),[36] which has also awarded him its Harold D Vursell Memorial Award (2012).[37][38] In 2010, he appeared on two Australian postage stamps in a series dedicated to "Australian Legends".[39] On 11 June 2012, Carey was named an Officer of the Order of Australia for "distinguished service to literature as a novelist, through international promotion of the Australian identity, as a mentor to emerging writers."[40] And in 2014, Carey was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) by Sydney University.[41]

Carey has won numerous literary awards, including:

Booker Prize Illywhacker, shortlisted in 1985; Oscar and Lucinda, 1988; True History of the Kelly Gang, 2001; Theft: A Love Story, longlisted in 2006; Parrot and Olivier in America, shortlisted in 2010. Peter Carey, J. M. Coetzee, Hilary Mantel, and Margaret Atwood are the only authors to have won the Booker Prize twice.
Miles Franklin Award Bliss, 1981; Oscar and Lucinda, 1989; Jack Maggs, 1998; True History of the Kelly Gang, shortlisted in 2001; Theft: A Love Story, shortlisted in 2007
The Age Book of the Year Award Illywhacker, 1985; The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, 1994; Jack Maggs, 1997
Colin Roderick Award Oscar and Lucinda, 1988; True History of the Kelly Gang, 2001
Commonwealth Writers Prize Jack Maggs, 1998; True History of the Kelly Gang, 2001
New South Wales Premier's Literary Award War Crimes, 1980; Bliss, 1982
NBC Banjo Award Bliss, 1982; Illywhacker, 1985; Oscar and Lucinda, 1989
Queensland Premier's Literary Award True History of the Kelly Gang, 2001
FAW Barbara Ramsden Award Illywhacker, 1985
Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction Illywhacker, 1986
Townsville Foundation for Australian Literary Studies Award Oscar and Lucinda, 1988
South Australia Festival Award Oscar and Lucinda, 1990
Ditmar Award for Best Australian Science Fiction Novel Illywhacker, 1986
Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger True History of the Kelly Gang, 2003

ARIA Music Awards[edit]

The ARIA Music Awards is an annual awards ceremony that recognises excellence, innovation, and achievement across all genres of Australian music. They commenced in 1987.

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
1987 Illusion (with Martin Armiger) Best Original Soundtrack, Cast or Show Album Nominated [42]
2015 Bliss (with Opera Australia) Nominated



Short story collections[edit]

  • The Fat Man in History (1974)
    • "Crabs"
    • "Peeling"
    • "She Wakes"
    • "Life and Death in the Southside Pavilion"
    • "Room No. 5 (Escribo)"
    • "Happy Story"
    • "A Windmill in the West"
    • "Withdrawal"
    • "Report on the Shadow Industry"
    • "Conversations with Unicorns"
    • "American Dreams"
    • "The Fat Man in History"
  • War Crimes (1979)
    • "The Journey of a Lifetime"
    • "Do You Love Me?"
    • "The Uses of Williamson Wood"
    • "The Last Days of a Famous Mime"
    • "A Schoolboy Prank"
    • "The Chance"
    • "Fragrance of Roses"
    • "The Puzzling Nature of Blue"
    • "Ultra-Violet Light"
    • "Kristu-Du"
    • "He Found Her in Late Summer"
    • "Exotic Pleasures"
    • "War Crimes"

Stories from Carey's first two collections have been repackaged in The Fat Man in History and Other Stories (1980), Exotic Pleasures (1990), and Collected Stories (1994); the last also includes three previously uncollected stories: "Joe" (Australian New Writing, 1973), "A Million Dollars Worth of Amphetamines" (Nation Review, 1975), and "Concerning the Greek Tyrant" (The Tabloid Story Pocket Book, 1978).

Uncollected short stories[edit]

  • "Contacts" (Under Twenty-Five: An Anthology, 1966)
  • "Eight Parts of a Whole" (Manic Magazine, 1970)
  • "Interview with Yourself" (Manic Magazine, 1970)
  • "Structure" (Manic Magazine, 1970)
  • "I Know You Can Talk" (Stand Magazine, 1975)
  • "The Mad Puzzle King" (Living Daylights, 1975)
  • "The Rose" (Nation Review, 1976)
  • "The Cosmic Pragmatist" (Nation Review, 1977)
  • "The Pleasure Bird" (Australian Playboy, 1979)
  • "An Abandoned Chapter" (Overland, 1997)

Contributed chapters[edit]

  • "A small memorial" In: Stories of Manhood: Journeys into the Hidden Hearts of Men edited by Steve Biddulph (2009)[43]

Juvenile fiction[edit]

  • The Big Bazoohley: A Story for Children (1995)




  • Illusion (1986, with Mike Mullins and Martin Armiger)



  1. ^ Alison Flood, "Peter Carey: Parrot and Olivier in America Could Be My Best Book". The Guardian, 17 August 2010. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  2. ^ Man Booker official site: J. G. Farrell [1]; Hilary Mantel "Dame Hilary Mantel | the Man Booker Prizes". Archived from the original on 13 March 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016.; J. M. Coetzee: "J M Coetzee | the Man Booker Prizes". Archived from the original on 17 March 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016..
  3. ^ John Ezard, "Carey wins Booker for Second Time". The Guardian, 18 October 2001. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  4. ^ "The Best of the Booker Shortlist Announced" Archived 17 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Man Booker Prize Media Release, 12 May 2008. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  5. ^ MFA Creative Writing, Hunter College, City University of New York. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  6. ^ Mary Ellen Snodgrass, Peter Carey: A Literary Companion (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2010), pp. 6-8.
  7. ^ Snodgrass, p. 9.
  8. ^ Candida Baker, Yacker: Australian Writers Talk about Their Work (Sydney: Picador, 1986), pp. 54-77.
  9. ^ Snodgrass, pp. 9-10. See also Carey Papers, Fryer Library, University of Queensland, Series B: Short Stories, B.1: Unpublished Short Stories, B.1 (a) Early short stories 1965-1967, Related correspondence 1964-1966. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  10. ^ Carey Papers, Fryer Library, University of Queensland, Series A: Novels, A.1: Unpublished Novels. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  11. ^ See also the bibliography in Andreas Gaile (ed.) Fabulating Beauty: Perspectives on the Fiction of Peter Carey (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2005). Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  12. ^ Sonia Harford, Leaving Paradise: My Expat Adventure and Other Stories (Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2006), p. 111.
  13. ^ Nicholas Wroe, "Fiction's Great Outlaw", The Guardian, 5 January 2001. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  14. ^ Rebecca Vaughan "Biography" Archived 16 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Peter Carey Website, 11 November 1997. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  15. ^ Hawley, Janet (24 February 1986). "In search of the truth and an entrepreneur". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
  16. ^ "ARIA Awards". YouTube. ARIA Official YouTube Account. 13 November 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  17. ^ Quoted in Sue Gillett, "Oscar and Lucinda: Shattering History’s Self-reflection", in Patrick Fuery (ed.), Representation, Discourse and Desire: Contemporary Australian Culture and Critical Theory (Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1994), p. 195.
  18. ^ Judith Moore, "Wrong About Japan: A Father's Journey with His Son", San Diego Reader, 17 March 2005. Retrieved 29 March 2012.
  19. ^ Susan Wyndham, "Ex-wife Comes Out Swinging", Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 2006. Retrieved 29 March 2012.
  20. ^ Suzanne Goldenberg, "Two Scribes Go to War", The Guardian, 8 May 2006. Retrieved 29 March 2012.
  21. ^ Schneller, Johanna (8 June 2012). "Peter Carey: 'A novel always takes me beyond myself'". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  22. ^ Gamerman, Ellen (8 January 2015). "Peter Carey on His Cyber Thriller 'Amnesia'". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  23. ^ Mel Gussow, "Championing a Fabled Bandit; For Novelist, a Rogue Australian Sums Up His Underdog Culture", The New York Times, 15 February 2001. Retrieved 29 March 2012.
  24. ^ Charles McGrath, "Peter Carey: At Home in Australia, New York and Writing", The New York Times, 26 April 2010. Retrieved 29 March 2012.
  25. ^ Rebecca K. Morrison, "The Chemistry of Tears, by Peter Carey", The Independent, 30 March 2012. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  26. ^ Alan Attwood, "Carey on Dickens, the Queen and Ned Kelly", Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June 1998.
  27. ^ "The Great Australian Story is of Loss, Death", Indian Express, 17 February 2003. Retrieved 29 March 2012.
  28. ^ Susan Wyndham, "A Love–Hate Story", The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April 2006. Retrieved 30 March 2012. Liam Houlihan, "Ex-wife Dumps on Scary Carey", Herald Sun, 13 November 2006. Retrieved 30 March 2012. See also Wyndham, "Ex-wife Comes Out Swinging", and Goldenberg, "Two Scribes Go to War".
  29. ^ "Peter Carey among writers to protest PEN honour for Charlie Hebdo". 27 April 2015.
  30. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (27 April 2015). "Six PEN Members Decline Gala After Award for Charlie Hebdo". The New York Times.
  31. ^ "204 PEN Writers (Thus Far) Have Objected to the Charlie Hebdo Award – Not Just 6". 30 April 2015.
  32. ^ "Read the Letters and Comments of PEN Writers Protesting the Charlie Hebdo Award". 27 April 2015.
  33. ^ Jules Smith, "Peter Carey", British Council Writers Directory. Retrieved 29 March 2012.
  34. ^ Find Fellows Archived 27 February 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Australian Academy of Humanities. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  35. ^ Academy Membership, American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  36. ^ "AP NewsBreak: Remnick and Wideman Elected to Academy of Arts". ABC News. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  37. ^ "Historian David McCullough, Composer Steve Reich to be Honored at Awards Luncheon". WNYC. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  38. ^ "American Academy of Arts and Letters - Award Winners". Archived from the original on 13 October 2008. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  39. ^ Australia Post, Stamp Bulletin, No. 303, March 2010.
  40. ^ "Officer (AO) in the General Division of the Order of Australia - The Queen's Birthday 2012 Honours Lists" (PDF). Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia. 11 June 2012. p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 June 2012.
  41. ^ Office, Publications. "Honorary awards in 2014". Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  42. ^ ARIA Award previous winners. "History Best Original Soundtrack, Cast or Show Album". Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  43. ^ Stories of manhood. Finch. 2013. ISBN 9780987419620. OCLC 845672207.
  44. ^ "Dead End Drive-In and my part in its refusal to die". 29 July 2017.

External links[edit]