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Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Jolley

One of Australia’s defining authors

Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Jolley
Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Jolley

Elizabeth Jolley (1923 -2007) was one of Australia’s defining authors, her bleak, black humour challenging established notions on how Australia should be depicted and refusing to conform to such trivial formalities as genre. Over the course of her distinguished career she wrote 15 novels and four short story collections. She was a cherished figure at Curtin for more than 20 years.

Born in Birmingham, England as Monica Elizabeth Knight, to an English father and Austrian mother, she experienced what she later described as a “mysterious world for us children” in a home often crowded with European refugees as the Second World War drew near.

Jolley emigrated to Australia in 1959 with her husband, Leonard Jolley, and their three children when Leonard was appointed Chief Librarian of the Reid Library at the University of Western Australia – a position he held until 1979.

Despite writing throughout her younger years, Jolley’s first book, a collection of short stories entitled Five Acre Virgin and Other Stories, wasn’t published until 1976, when she was 53 years of age.

In 1978, she started teaching part-time at the Western Australian Institute of Technology (now Curtin), becoming Writer in Residence in 1987. In 1998 she was appointed Professor of Creative Writing and later became Emeritus Professor in Curtin’s School of Communication and Cultural Studies.

Jolley was highly celebrated throughout her career, winning several international literary prizes and every major Australian award for her fiction. She received honorary doctorates from Curtin (1988), Macquarie University (1995) and the University of Queensland (1997). She also received many civic awards, including the Western Australian Citizen of the Year Award in 1987, the Order of Australia for Services to the Arts in 1988, and was named a Living National Treasure by the National Trust of Australia (NSW) in 1997.

Many of her works have been adapted to the screen, such as A Gentleman’s Agreement (ABC, 1991), The Night Belongs to the Novelist (Chris Wilcox, Yowee Films, 1986), and The Well which was shown at the 1997 Cannes International Festival of Film. Her novels The Newspaper of Claremont Street and Milk and Honey have also been made into plays, by David Britton and Ingle Knight respectively.

She greatly valued Curtin, for providing her “a room of her own” in which to write, contact with literary colleagues, and the opportunity to work with young writers. In return, she was equally valued by Curtin staff and students.

Curtin has recognised her work with the naming of:

YearAwards
1983The Age Book of the Year Award for Mr Scobie's Riddle Western Australian Premier's Book Awards for Mr Scobie's Riddle
1985New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Christina Stead Prize for Fiction for Milk and Honey
1986Miles Franklin Award for The Well
1987Western Australian Citizen of the Year
1988Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for services to literature Western Australian Institute of Technology (Curtin) Honorary Doctorate
1989The Age Book of the Year Award joint winner for My Father's Moon Canada/Australia Literary Award
1993The Age Book of the Year Award joint winner for The George's Wife Western Australian Premier's Book Awards Premier's prize for Central Mischief
1994National Book Council Award Banjo for The George's Wife
1995Macquarie University Honorary Doctorate
1997Australian Living Treasure University of Queensland Honorary Doctorate
1998Miles Franklin Award shortlist for Lovesong