Sophie Cunningham

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Sophie Cunningham
Born (1963-12-26) 26 December 1963 (age 55)
OccupationWriter, editor, Current Chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council.

Sophie Cunningham (born 26 December 1963) is a Melbourne-based writer and editor.


Cunningham was publisher at McPhee Gribble/Penguin for two years and Trade Publisher at Allen & Unwin for ten, where she was known for commissioning and editing innovative fiction and non-fiction. At McPhee Gribble the books she worked on included I Was a Teenage Fascist by David Greason, Glad All Over: The Countdown Years 1974–1987 by Peter Wilmoth and Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave.

At Allen & Unwin she published Mark Davis's Gangland: Cultural Elites and the New Generationalism.[1]


In 2004, her own first novel, Geography, was published. In 2005 she was an Asialink resident in Sri Lanka, which provided research material for her novel Bird, which follows the life of a singer-actress who became a Buddhist nun.[2]

Her non-fiction book Melbourne was published in 2011. Part memoir, part history, it is a portrait of the city as experienced through her own memories over the course of a year. In 2012 it was longlisted for the National Biography Award.[3]

As of April 2012 she is working on her third novel, This Devastating Fever, about Leonard Woolf's time as a colonial administrator in Ceylon,[4] and a non-fiction book, Warning, on Cyclone Tracy and other extreme weather events.[5]

Cunningham has also written journalism, including travel writing, cultural analysis and writing on Buddhism and television. From 2002 to 2005, she wrote the Couch Life column for the television section of The Age.


In 2008 Cunningham became the editor of Meanjin and aimed to make the literary magazine "lighter, more fun, but I don't mean lightweight."[6] She also aimed to establish a younger audience for the magazine.

During her time as editor, Cunningham significantly expanded the magazine's online presence and launched several successful public events in Melbourne and Sydney (notably Meanland, in collaboration with Jeff Sparrow, editor of fellow literary journal Overland) to lead public debate on issues around digital publishing.[7]

In 2010 she resigned, claiming she had been locked out of discussions about the publication's future and believed its owner, Melbourne University Press, intended to cease publishing the print edition. "I was not formally consulted once," she told Crikey. "I do know there was a sense – expressed by MUP – that I was not working with MUP closely enough and was being too independent. I had understood my task to be to keep Meanjin's separate identity."[8]

Although there was speculation Meanjin would move to an online-only format,[9] MUP chairman Alan Kohler denied this was the case.[8]

Stella Prize[edit]

In 2011, Cunningham was part of a group of 11 Australian women writers, editors, publishers and booksellers who became concerned about the poor representation of books by women in Australia's top literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award. In response, they established the Stella Prize (named after Stella Miles Franklin), a $50,000 annual award for writing by Australian women in all genres, similar to the UK's Orange Prize.[10][11]

"After a rapid acceleration in women's rights in the '70s and '80s, things have started to go backwards," Cunningham said in a keynote address at the 2011 Melbourne Writers' Festival. "Women continue to be marginalised in Australian culture and, the arts sector – which likes to pride itself on its liberal values – is, in fact, complacent. Women are much less likely to win literary awards, to write reviews of books, or have their books reviewed. This, despite the fact they write about half the books published."[12]

Personal life[edit]

Cunningham's father is the literary scholar and critic Peter Nicholls, although they were not close for many years.[13] She lives in Melbourne with her wife Virginia Murdoch.[citation needed]



  • Geography (Text, 2004), ISBN 9781920885038
  • Bird (Text, 2008), ISBN 9781921351525
  • Melbourne (UNSW Press, 2011), ISBN 9781742231389
  • Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy (Text, 2014), ISBN 9781922079367
  • City of Trees: Essays on Life, Death and the Need for a Forest (Text, 2019) ISBN 9781925773439

Book reviews[edit]

Date Review article Work(s) reviewed
2011 Cunningham, Sophie (June 2011). "Caleb goes to Harvard". Australian Book Review (332): 55–56. Brooks, Geraldine (2011). Caleb's crossing.


  1. ^ Cunningham, Sophie (21 August 2011). "Melbourne by the book". The Age.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "National Biography Award".
  4. ^ "Talk of the table". The Age. Melbourne. 23 August 2008.
  5. ^ "Faber Academy: Writing A Novel with Sophie Cunningham".
  6. ^ Sullivan, Jane (23 August 2008). "Talk of the table". Melbourne: The Age.
  7. ^ "Meanland".
  8. ^ a b Crook, Andrew. "Meanjin editor breaks silence on departure, MUP". Crikey.
  9. ^ Steger, Jason (28 October 2010). "Meanjin faces an online-only future". Sydney Morning Herald.
  10. ^ "Stella Prize website".
  11. ^ Alison Flood (2 November 2012). "Canada and Australia launch women's literary prizes". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  12. ^ Coslovich, Gabriella (29 August 2011). "Female-only literary prize puts gender on the agenda". Melbourne: The Age.
  13. ^ Cunningham, Sophie, Alien Star: Interview with Peter Nicholls, archived from the original on 19 August 2014, retrieved 18 May 2018

External links[edit]