Robert Dessaix (born 17 February 1944) is an Australian novelist, essayist and journalist.
Robert Dessaix was born in Sydney and adopted at an early age by Tom and Jean Jones, after which he was known as Robert Jones. Tom Jones, a merchant seaman, was already 55 when Robert was adopted. He was educated at North Sydney Boys High School and the Australian National University. He married in 1970. He studied at Moscow State University during the early 1970s, and taught Russian Studies at the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales from 1972 to 1984. During this time he translated a number of Russian books into English in collaboration with Michael Ulman, including The Sheepskin Coat and An Absolutely Happy Village by Boris Vakhtin.
Robert Jones resumed his birth name Robert Dessaix after he was awarded his doctorate.
From 1985 to 1995 he presented the ABC program Books and Writing.
His first book was his autobiography, A Mother's Disgrace, which was published in 1994 by HarperCollins. Manuscripts concerning A Mother's Disgrace are in the Mitchell Library of the State Library of New South Wales. The manuscript was written in French, and the book concerns his journey to an alternative sexuality after twelve years of marriage and his meeting with his birth mother Yvonne. It was made into a screenplay by Ross Wilson in 1999. He never met his birth father, who was killed in an air crash shortly after the end of World War II.
His first fictional work, the epistolary novel Night Letters, was published in 1996. It was translated into German, French, Italian, Dutch, Finnish, Polish, and Portuguese.
His second novel was Corfu, published in 2001.
Dessaix's latest long work, Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev defies genre characterisation, interweaving a personal travelogue with a biography of Ivan Turgenev. It was published in 2004. It takes inspiration from his doctoral thesis on Turgenev and the Soviet Union, as well as Alain de Botton's works on travel, art and philosophy.
In March 2010 it was revealed that Dessaix had been refused a visa to attend the Shanghai International Literary Festival. He had declared his HIV-positive status on his application, and although the guidelines stated that HIV status would have no prejudicial effect, it was felt that it must have been the reason for the refusal because Dessaix had had no political involvement in matters concerning China.
The State Library of NSW holds an extensive collection of material related to Dessaix including his papers concerning the writing of Night Letters.
- Night Letters: A Journey Through Switzerland and Italy Edited and Annotated by Igor Miazmov (1996) ISBN 0-312-19939-2
- Secrets (with Drusilla Modjeska and Amanda Lohrey, 1997)
- Corfu (2001) ISBN 0-330-36278-X
- A Mother's Disgrace (1994) ISBN 0-207-17934-4
- Arabesques : A Tale of Double Lives (2008)
- What days are for (2014)
- Secrets with Drusilla Modjeska and Amanda Lohrey (and so forth) (1998)
- Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev (2004) ISBN 1-59376-063-9
- As I Was Saying: a Collection of Musings (2012) ISBN 978-1-74275-307-2
- Arabesques: a Tale of Double Lives
- The Pleasures of Leisure (2017) ISBN 9780143780045
- Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing: An Anthology (1993)
- Picador New Writing (1993)
- Speaking Their Minds: Intellectuals and the Public Culture in Australia (1998)
- The Best Australian Essays 2004 (2004)
- The Best Australian Essays 2005 (2005)
Awards and nominations
- NBC Banjo Awards, NBC Banjo Award for Non-Fiction, 1994: A Mother's Disgrace - shortlisted
- Booksellers Choice Award, 1996: Night Letters : A Journey Through Switzerland and Italy Edited and Annotated by Igor Miazmov - joint winner
- Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, 1997: Night Letters: A Journey Through Switzerland and Italy Edited and Annotated by Igor Miazmov - winner
- Colin Roderick Award, 1998: (And So Forth) - winner
- Waverley Library Award for Literature, 2005: Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev - shortlisted
- Victorian Premier's Literary Award, The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction, 2005: Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev - winner
- New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction, 2005: Twilight of Love : Travels with Turgenev - shortlisted
- Margaret Scott Prize, 2007: Twilight of Love : Travels with Turgenev - winner
- Malcolm Knox (2010-03-06). "Author with HIV refused China visa". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2012-08-01.
- "Brisbane Writers Festival 2017". Uplit. Retrieved 2017-09-04.
- Robert Dessaix's official website
-  Transcript of interview with Ramona Koval about "Arabesques" on The Book Show on ABC Radio National, 7 October 2008.
- Robert Dessaix's Australian Literary Management page
- Literary Encyclopedia entry on Robert Dessaix
- A profile and bibliography from the Brisbane Writers Festival 2004 including his sessions there
- Mitchell Library Collection of the Papers of Robert Dessaix's A Mother's Disgrace
- Mitchell Library Collection of the Papers of Robert Dessaix's Night Letters
- An Interview with Robert Dessaix by Jayne Margetts
- Lingua Franca interview with Dessaix about his personal language K
- Interview with Dessaix by Phil Lecks
- Guardian Review of Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev
- His best second self - review from the Telegraph of Twilight of Love
- Robert Dessaix - public intellectuals in Australia':interview with Phillip Adams, Late Night Live, ABC Radio National