Supported by the Ray Mathew and Eva Kollsman Trust

The Opportunity of Distance

2009 Ray Mathew Lecture presented by Geraldine Brooks on Thursday, 22 October 2009
Supported by the Ray Mathew and Eva Kollsman Trust

Geraldine Brooks was born and raised in Sydney’s inner western suburbs. She attended the University of Sydney before embarking on a career in journalism. In 1982 she won the Greg Shackleton Australian News Correspondents scholarship to the journalism master’s program at Columbia University in New York City. Later she worked for The Wall Street Journal, where for a decade she covered conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans.

In an interview with Andrew Denton in 2005, Brooks credited the Nigerian Secret Police for her decision to give up her position as a foreign correspondent. After spending three nights in a Nigerian prison, she decided it was time to go home. Home, by this time, was the United States, where her husband and fellow foreign correspondent Tony Horwitz was waiting for her.

‘Not long after my son was born, I sat down to try to write my first novel,’ Brooks writes in her 2001 essay The Writing Life. ‘It was to have been set in Tasmania, amid the wild temperate rain forests of Australia’s southernmost state. Instead, I found myself writing about Derbyshire.’

That book was Year of Wonders. Published in 2001, the historical novel set in ‘Plague Village’ became an international bestseller. March, her evocation of the American Civil War, experienced by the father of Louisa May Alcott’s fictional family of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006. Her most recent novel, People of the Book (2008), traces the journey of a rare illuminated Hebrew manuscript from convivencia Spain to the ruins of Sarajevo, from the Silver Age of Venice to the sunburned rock faces of northern Australia. In 2009, it was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction.

The National Library holds copies of all of Brooks’s published fiction and non-fiction, including copies of foreign editions in languages such as Urdu, Danish, Arabic and Chinese.

Listen to the lecture
Read the essay:The Opportunity of Distance (127KB)


Geraldine Brooks at the National Library of Australia

Greg Power (b. 1974) Author Geraldine Brooks at the National Library of Australia for the 2009 Ray Mathew Lecture, Canberra


Geraldine Brooks signing copies of her books

Greg Power (b. 1974) Geraldine Brooks signing copies of her books following the inaugural Ray Mathew Lecture, 22 October 2009