From Bacchus March to Bestseller Lists
With his award-winning fiction, author Peter Carey has sought to put Australian literature on the map.
"The Guardian" calls him "without question the pre-eminent literary voice of post-colonial Australia." For the prize-winning novelist Peter Carey who, for more than a decade, has lived on the other side of the world, his home country continues to be the primary source of raw material and the basis for authenticity in his writing.
Peter Carey was born in Bacchus March, Australia, in 1943. Provided in his growing-up years with a good private education, he first elected to study science at Monash University. It proved to be a choice incompatible with his talents -- writing was a better fit and, for a number of years, he supported this passion by writing copy for the advertising agency he co-owned with a friend.
His first volume of short stories, "The Fat Man in History," was published when he was just past 30, but it wasn’t until the end of the 1970’s that his second volume, "War Crimes," established his place in Australian literary annals.
Carey’s move away from the realism that had until this time characterized Australian literature and into an experimental surrealism that drew on both science fiction and fables captured the attention of both the public and the arbiters of literary taste.
In the early 80’s, he received the first of what were to be many prestigious awards. He won the New South Wales Premier’s Award in 1980; the next year it was the Miles Franklin Award and in 1982 he received both the National Book Council Award and a second New South Wales Premier’s Award.
Meanwhile, Carey ventured into novels. His 1981 "Bliss" secured his international reputation. Four years later he published "Illywhacker" and collected both the Age Book of the Year and the Australian Film Institute awards. He was then just over 40 and in the midst of an odyssey which took him from Melbourne to London to Sydney and finally, at the end of the 80’s, to New York.
Many Australian writers before him had gone to live abroad. “They felt they had to, to find recognition and intelligent criticism. Australia used to be a bad place for intellectuals and artists to be.” Carey says he “never felt (himself) to be in a hostile place in this way.” He had, after all, received ample recognition of his work before he ever left Australia. But, “being away I can see the strangeness more easily. I have to trust my life and follow it where it leads me.”
By the time it led him to New York, Peter Carey had, in just over a decade, gone from writing advertising copy -- with short stories as a sideline -- to being a multi-faceted and widely recognized literary figure. In 1986, he collected his second National Book Council Award and added script writing ("Bliss") to his repertoire. His 1988 novel "Oscar and Lucinda" earned him his first Booker Prize -- and an invitation to meet the Queen. He asked for a postponement on family grounds. The Palace cancelled the meeting altogether and thus was born one of many Peter Carey legends -- he had “declined” to meet the Queen -- "A real storm in a teacup” said one commentator.