Geraldine Brooks

Pulitzer prize winning Australian American journalist and novelist Geraldine Brooks AO was born 14 September 1955. Geraldine Brooks grew up in its inner-west suburb of Ashfield. Her father, Lawrie Brooks, was an American big-band singer who was stranded in Adelaide on a tour of Australia when his manager absconded with the band’s pay; he decided to remain in Australia, and became a newspaper sub-editor; her mother Gloria, from Boorowa, was a public relations officer with radio station 2GB in Sydney. Her older sister is the writer Darleen Bungey. She attended Bethlehem College, a secondary school for girls, and the University of Sydney. Following graduation, she was a rookie reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and, after winning a Greg Shackleton Memorial Scholarship, moved to the United States, completing a master’s degree at New York City’s Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1983. The following year, in the Southern France artisan village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup, she married American journalist Tony Horwitz and converted to Judaism.

She began working As a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, where she covered crises in Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East, with the stories from the Persian Gulf which she and her husband reported in 1990, receiving the Overseas Press Club’s Hal Boyle Award for “Best Newspaper or Wire Service Reporting from Abroad”. In 2006, she was awarded a fellowship at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Brooks wrote her first book Nine Parts of Desire in 1994. It was based on her experiences among Muslim women in the Middle East, was an international bestseller, translated into 17 languages. Foreign Correspondence (1997), which won the Nita Kibble Literary Award for women’s writing, was a memoir and travel adventure about a childhood enriched by penpals from around the world, and her adult quest to find them. Her first novel, Year of Wonders, was published in 2001, and became an international bestseller. It is Set in 1666, and depicts a young woman’s battle to save fellow villagers as well as her own soul when the bubonic plague suddenly strikes her small Derbyshire village of Eyam.

Her next novel, March (2005), was inspired by her fondness for Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, which her mother had given her. To connect that memorable reading experience to her new status in 2002 as an American citizen, she researched the Civil War historical setting of Little Women and decided to create a chronicle of wartime service for the “absent father” of the March girls. Some aspects of this chronicle were informed by the life and philosophical writings of the Alcott family patriarch, Amos Bronson Alcott, whom she profiled under the title “Orpheus at the Plow”, in the 10 January 2005 issue of The New Yorker, a month before March was published. The parallel novel received a mixed reaction from critics, but was nonetheless selected in December 2005 selection by the Washington Post as one of the five best fiction works published that year, and in April 2006, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Although she was only eligible for the prize by virtue of her American citizenship, she was also the first Australian to win the prize.

Brooks published her next novel, People of the Book in 2008. This featured the fictionalized history and events surrounding a sacred Jewish text called the Sarajevo Haggadah and it’s amazing journey from the Middle East to Moorish Spain, through Jewish settlements in Prague and Renaissance Venice, to Nazi Germany before being rescued and ending up in a New York Library. This novel was inspired by her reporting (for The New Yorker) of human interest stories emerging in the aftermath of the 1991–95 breakup of Yugoslavia. The novel won both the Australian Book of the Year Award and the Australian Literary Fiction Award in 2008.

In 2011 Brooks published the novel Caleb’s Crossing. This is inspired by the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a Wampanoag convert to Christianity who was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College, an achievement of the seventeenth century. In 2011 at the invitation of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Brooks delivered the prestigious Boyer Lectures. These have been published as “The Idea of Home”,and reveal her passionate humanist values. In 2015 Geraldine Books published the historical novel The Secret Chord, which is based on the life of the biblical King David in the period of the Second Iron Age.

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