Richard Flanagan

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Richard Flanagan
Richard Miller Flanagan

1961 (age 62–63)
Longford, Tasmania, Australia
Alma materUniversity of Tasmania
Worcester College, Oxford
Years active1985–present
SpouseMajda Smolej
RelativesMartin Flanagan (brother)
AwardsMan Booker Prize

Richard Miller Flanagan (born 1961) is an Australian writer, who has also worked as a film director and screenwriter. He won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.[1]

Flanagan was described by the Washington Post as "one of our greatest living novelists".[2]

"[C]onsidered by many to be the finest Australian novelist of his generation", according to The Economist,[3] the New York Review of Books described Flanagan as "among the most versatile writers in the English language".[4]

Early life and education[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 during the Great Famine in Ireland.[5] Flanagan's father was a survivor of the Burma Death Railway and one of his three brothers is Australian rules football journalist Martin Flanagan.

Flanagan was born with severe hearing loss, which was corrected when he was six years old.[6] He grew up in the remote mining town of Rosebery on Tasmania's western coast.[7][8][9]

Flanagan left school at the age of 16 but returned to study at the University of Tasmania, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with First-Class Honours. Flanagan was president of the Tasmania University Union in 1983.[10] The following year, he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to attend Worcester College, Oxford, where he earned the degree of Master of Letters in History.[11]

Early works[edit]

Flanagan wrote four non-fiction works before moving to fiction, works that he called "his apprenticeship".[7][8][12] One of these was Codename Iago, an autobiography of Australian con man John Friedrich, which Flanagan ghostwrote 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".[13]


Flanagan's first novel, Death of a River Guide (1994), is the tale of Aljaz Cosini, a 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".[14] The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1997), tells the story of Slovenian immigrants, was a major bestseller, selling more than 150,000 copies in Australia. Flanagan's first two novels, declared Kirkus Reviews, "rank with the finest fiction out of Australia since the heyday of Patrick White".[15]

Gould's Book of Fish (2001) 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 won the 2002 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Flanagan described these early novels as 'soul histories'. The Unknown Terrorist (2006), was described by The New York Times as "stunning ... a brilliant meditation upon the post-9/11 world".[16] 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. The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2013),[17] about a Tasmanian doctor who becomes a Japanese prisoner of war, won the 2014 Man Booker Prize.[18][19]

First Person (2017),[20] based loosely on his experience early in his writing career ghost-writing the autobiography of John Friedrich. The New Yorker noted "the novel, with its switchbacking recollections and cyclical dialogue, its penetrating scenes of birth and, eventually, death, is enigmatic and mesmerizing"[21] while the New York Review of Books called it a "tour-de-force".[4]

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams (2020) about a woman caring for her dying mother during Australia's Black Summer of climate change induced wildfires, was described in a review for The Sydney Morning Herald as "a revelation and a triumph . . . astonishing".[22]

Robert Dixon's (ed.) Richard Flanagan: Critical Essays (2018) offers different perspectives on Flanagan's writing, while Joyce Carol Oates has written an overview of his novels for the New York Review of Books.[23]


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 Monthly, The New York Times, and the New Yorker.[24] 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".[25] Flanagan's 2007 essay on logging company Gunns, then the biggest hardwood woodchipper in the world, "Gunns. Out of Control" in The Monthly,[26] first published as "Paradise Razed" in The Telegraph (London),[27] inspired Sydney businessman Geoffrey Cousins' high-profile campaign to stop the building of Gunns' two billion dollar Bell Bay Pulp Mill.[28][29] Cousins reprinted 50,000 copies of the essay for letterboxing in the electorates of Australia's environment minister and opposition environment spokesperson.[30][31] Gunns subsequently collapsed with huge debt,[32] its CEO John Gay found guilty of insider trading,[33] and the pulp mill was never built. Flanagan's essay won the 2008 John Curtin Prize for Journalism.[34]

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

In 2015 he published Notes on an Exodus, on the Syrian refugee crisis, arising out of visiting refugee camps in Lebanon, Greece, and meeting refugees in Serbia. The book also features sketches made by the noted Australian artist Ben Quilty, who travelled with Flanagan to meet the refugees.

His 2021 book Toxic. The Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmanian Salmon Industry has been credited with lifting 'the veil on the Atlantic salmon industry's environmental and social malfeasances' and igniting popular opposition to the industry.[35]


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.[36]

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

A major television series of The Narrow Road to the Deep North is in production, directed by Justin Kurzel (Snowtown, Macbeth, Nitram) and starring Jacob Elordi (Euphoria, Priscilla, Saltburn).[37]

Personal life[edit]

Flanagan is an ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation,[38] to which he donated his $40,000 prize money on winning the Australian Prime Minister's Literary Prize in 2014.[39] A painting of Richard Flanagan by artist Geoffrey Dyer won the 2003 Archibald Prize.[40] A rapid on the Franklin River, Flanagan's Surprise, is named after him.[41] He was made an Honorary Citizen of Oxford, Mississippi, the home town of William Faulkner, in 2014.[42]

Flanagan lives in Hobart, Tasmania with his Slovenian-born wife Majda (née Smolej) and has three daughters, Rosie, Jean and Eliza.

His life was the subject of a BAFTA award-winning BBC documentary, Life After Death.[43]




  • (1985) A Terrible Beauty: History of the Gordon River Country[54]
  • (1990) The Rest of the World Is Watching: Tasmania and the Greens[55] (co-editor)
  • (1991) Codename Iago: The Story of John Friedrich[56][57] (co-writer)
  • (1991) "Parish-Fed Bastards": A History of the Politics of the Unemployed in Britain, 1884–1939[58]
  • (2011) And What Do You Do, Mr Gable?
  • (2015) Notes on an Exodus
  • (2018) Seize the Fire: Three Speeches
  • (2021) Toxic: The Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmania Salmon Industry[59]
  • (2023) Question 7


Awards and honours[edit]

  • (1996) National Fiction Award for Death of a River Guide
  • (1995) Victorian Premier's Prize for Best First Fiction (for Death of a River Guide)
  • (1998) National Booksellers award for Best Book for The Sound of One Hand Clapping
  • (1998) Victorian Premier's Prize for Best Novel, for The Sound of One hand Clapping
  • (2002) Australian Literature Society Gold Medal (for Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish)
  • (2002) Victorian Premier's Prize for Fiction for Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish
  • (2002) The Commonwealth Writers' Prize (for Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish)
  • (2008) Western Australian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction (for Wanting)[60]
  • (2009) Queensland Premier's Literary Award for Fiction (for Wanting)
  • (2011) Tasmania Book Prize (for Wanting)[61]
  • (2014) Western Australian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction (for The Narrow Road to the Deep North)
  • (2014) Queensland Premier's Literary Award for Fiction (for The Narrow Road to the Deep North)[62]
  • (2014) The Man Booker Prize for Fiction (for The Narrow Road to the Deep North)[63]
  • (2014) Australian Prime Minister's Literary Prize (for The Narrow Road to the Deep North)[64]
  • (2015) Margaret Scott Prize (for The Narrow Road to the Deep North)[65]
  • (2016) The Athens Prize for Literature (for The Narrow Road to the Deep North)[66]
  • (2016) Lire Prix du meilleur livre étranger (for The Narrow Road to the Deep North)[67]
  • (2019) Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities (FAHA)[68]
  • (2020) Honorary Fellow of the Modern Languages Association[69]


  1. ^ Bennhold, Katrin; Alter, Alexandra (23 July 2014). "In First, Americans Are Nominated for Booker Prize". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  2. ^ Patrick, Bethanne. "10 books to read in May". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  3. ^ "New fiction: Remembrance - The Economist". The Economist. 3 July 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  4. ^ a b Oates, Joyce Carol (27 September 2018). "The Ghostwriter's Mask". Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  5. ^ Dynasties 2: More Remarkable and Influential Australian Families (1 ed.). Books for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2006. pp. 31–32. ISBN 9780733317675.
  6. ^ ABC, Australian Story., Retrieved 29 December 2018
  7. ^ a b "Notes for Reading Groups – Richard Flanagan" (PDF). Picador Australia. 3 November 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 October 2009. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  8. ^ a b "Richard Flanagan". The British Council. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  9. ^ Our Authors, Random House Australia
  10. ^ Alexander, Alison (1999). State of the Union: Tasmania University Union 1899–1999. Hobart: Tasmania University Union. p. 67. ISBN 0-9592353-2-9.
  11. ^ McKenna, Amy (1 January 2024). "Richard Flanagan". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 3 January 2024.
  12. ^ "Author Biography". 30 April 2007. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  13. ^ "All memoirs are verily unreliable". 11 April 2008. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  14. ^ Smith, Vivian (3 October 1997). "Down the Franklin". The Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  15. ^ Death of a River Guide, Kirkus Reviews, 1 March 2001
  16. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (8 May 2007). "A Misunderstanding, and a Simple Life Descends into a Nightmare". The New York Times.
  17. ^ "Poetry without a shred of pity". The Australian. News Corp Australia. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  18. ^ "Richard Flanagan wins Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North". The Daily Telegraph. 14 October 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  19. ^ "Man Booker Prize 2014: The Narrow Road to the Deep North author Richard Flanagan becomes third Australian to win the literary accolade". Independent. 14 October 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  20. ^ "New Novel from Richard Flanagan". Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  21. ^ "Briefly Noted Book Reviews". 21 May 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  22. ^ Williams, Michael (25 September 2020). "The sheer magic of Richard Flanagan's disappearing act". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 26 September 2020.
  23. ^ Oates, Joyce Carol (27 September 2018). "The Ghostwriter's Mask". New York Review of Books. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  24. ^ Flanagan, Richard (14 January 2013). "Tasmanian Devil". Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  25. ^ "Australian Story". Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  26. ^ "". The Monthly. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  27. ^ Flanagan, Richard (28 June 2007). "Paradise razed". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 23 February 2009.
  28. ^ Ramsey, Alan (6 October 2007). "Vision Ltd: Turnbull yes to mess for 50 years". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  29. ^ "The corporate assassin". The Sydney Morning Herald. 26 March 2012. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  30. ^ "Pulp mill fight moves into MPs' backyards – Environment". Sydney Morning Herald. 28 August 2007.
  31. ^ "Garrett hedges bets on mill – Environment". Sydney Morning Herald. 29 August 2007.
  32. ^ "Gunns failure a story of corporate greed and hubris, say mill's critics". The Sydney Morning Herald. 25 September 2012. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  33. ^ "Commonwealth pursues Gay for proceeds of crime". ABC News. 17 March 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  34. ^ ""2008 John Curtin Prize Journalism Acceptance Speech"". The Monthly, 1 September 2008. Retrieved 10 April 2024.
  35. ^ Brown, Bob (27 January 2024). "Albanese and the salmon wars". The Saturday Paper. Retrieved 27 January 2024.
  36. ^ "Berlinale: 1998 Programme". Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  37. ^ Frater, Patrick (20 November 2023). "Ciaran Hinds Joins 'Euphoria' Star Jacob Elordi in Prime Video and Sony's Australian Miniseries 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North'". Variety. Retrieved 27 January 2024.
  38. ^ "Flanagan appointed ILF ambassador; PRH signs on as 'major charity partner'". Archived from the original on 15 July 2015. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  39. ^ "Indigenous Literacy - Indigenous Literacy Foundation". Archived from the original on 15 July 2015. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  40. ^ "Art Gallery of New South Wales: Archibald Prize Winner". Archived from the original on 25 March 2009. Retrieved 7 January 2009.
  41. ^ 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
  42. ^ "Welcome Home Richard Flanagan". SQUARE BOOKS. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  43. ^ Cocker, Jack (7 August 2015). "Richard Flanagan: Life After Death". Vimeo. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  44. ^ MacFarlane, Robert (26 May 2002). "Con fishing". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  45. ^ "Review of Gould's Book of Fish". Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  46. ^ González Cueto, Irene (6 March 2017). "Nadando contracorriente con El libro de los peces de William Gould, de Richard Flanagan". Cultural Resuena (in European Spanish).
  47. ^ "The Unknown Terrorist official site". Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  48. ^ Transcript of interview with Ramona Koval on The Book Show, ABC Radio National on his novel "Wanting", 12/11/2008
  49. ^, Video: Interview with Richard Flanagan about Wanting and Baz Luhrmann's Australia
  50. ^ Official Australian Wanting book website
  51. ^ Boyd, William (28 June 2009). "Saints and Savages". The New York Times.
  52. ^ Williams, Michael (26 September 2013). "Dinner with Richard Flanagan, a child of the death railway". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
  53. ^ Williamson, Geordie (28 September 2013). "Poetry without a shred of pity". The Australian. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
  54. ^ "A terrible beauty : history of the Gordon River country / Richard Flanagan". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  55. ^ "The Rest of the world is watching". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  56. ^ "Codename Iago : the story of John Friedrich : by John Friedrich with Richard Flanagan". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  57. ^ "Richard Flanagan". 20 December 2004. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  58. ^ ""Parish-fed bastards" : a history of the politics of the unemployed in Britain, 1884-1939 / Richard ... - National Library of Australia". Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  59. ^ "Toxic by Richard Flanagan". Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  60. ^ Australian, c=AU; o=Government of Western Australia; ou=Department of Culture and the Arts;ou=State Library of Western. "Western Australian Premier's Book Awards - 2008". Retrieved 9 February 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  61. ^ "2011 Tasmanian Book Prizes winners announced - Books+Publishing". Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  62. ^ "Domain parked by Instra". Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  63. ^ "The Man Booker Prize for Fiction Backlist - The Man Booker Prizes". Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  64. ^ "Subscribe to The Australian - Newspaper home delivery, website, iPad, iPhone & Android apps". Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  65. ^ Hodgman, Will (2 December 2015). "Winners of the Premier's Literary Prizes". Department of Premier and Cabinet. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  66. ^ "Εκδόσεις Ψυχογιός: Στον Ρίτσαρντ Φλάναγκαν το Athens Prize for Literature - Lavart". Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  67. ^ "Lire: les 20 meilleurs livres de 2016". 1 December 2016. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  68. ^ "Fellows". Australian Academy of the Humanities. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  69. ^ "Honorary Members and Fellows". Modern Language Association. Retrieved 2 December 2020.

External links[edit]