The first biography of Shirley Hazzard, the author of The Transit of Venus and a writer of “shocking wisdom” and “intellectual thrill” (The New Yorker).
Shirley Hazzard: A Writing Life tells the extraordinary story of a great modern novelist. Brigitta Olubas, Hazzard’s authorized biographer, has drawn, with great subtlety and understanding, on her fiction (itself largely based on Hazzard’s own experience); on an extensive archive of letters, diaries, and notebooks; and on the memories of surviving friends and colleagues to create this resonant portrait of an exceptional woman.
This biography explores the distinctive times of Hazzard’s life, from her youth and middle age to her widowhood and years of decline, and traces the complex and intricate processes of self-fashioning that lay beneath Hazzard’s formidable, beguiling presence. Olubas shows us the places of Hazzard’s life, of which she wrote with characteristic lyricism: her childhood in Depression-era Sydney; her youth in postwar Hong Kong, New Zealand, and London; her years in New York in the 1950s, working at the United Nations and The New Yorker. Olubas also describes Hazzard’s long marriage to the writer Francis Steegmuller and their deep involvement in postwar Naples and Capri. Rare photographs from Hazzard’s collection and elsewhere accompany the text.
Hazzard was the last of a generation of self-taught writers, devotees of a great literary tradition, and her depth of perception and expressive gifts have earned her iconic status. Brigitta Olubas has brought her brilliantly alive, enhancing and deepening our understanding of the singular woman who created some of the most enduring fiction of the past sixty years.
As Dwight Garner wrote in The New York Times, “Hazzard’s stories feel timeless because she understands, as she writes in one of them: ‘We are human beings, not rational ones.’” Here, in Shirley Hazzard, is the story of a remarkable human being.
"An impeccably researched and deeply incisive account of Hazzard’s life and work, and the intriguing interplay between the two . . . Olubas is not in the business of hagiography. She is in pursuit of the truth. She tells it straight and we trust her . . . [A] brilliant biography." —Lily King, The New York Times
"Immersive, exacting, glittering: scholar Brigitta Olubas’s Shirley Hazzard: A Writing Life, the first authorized biography of the late, iconic author, deserves accolades. From letters, diaries, notebooks, and friends’ memories, Olubas has built a dense, powerful narrative with real momentum—as freighted with incident and portent as a work of Dickens." —Joan Frank, The Boston Globe
"An illuminating portrait . . . In this scrupulously researched biography, Olubas . . . charts the meandering course of Hazzard’s life and travels, drawing on events and impressions that would inform much of her writing . . . Throughout, Olubas offers a discerning, cleareyed perspective of Hazzard’s complex character and a persuasive appraisal of what distinguishes her work. An absorbing, well-crafted profile of a supremely gifted writer." —Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Shirley Hazzard: A Writing Life peels back the layers and shines a light on where [Hazzard] began, who she became and what shaped her literary achievements . . . A captivating and fully fleshed-out figure dominates the proceedings . . . [An] insightful and engrossing book which expertly maps, celebrates and illuminates [Hazzard’s] eventful life." —Malcolm Forbes, The Wall Street Journal
"Immersive, exacting, [and] glittering . . . Olubas has built a dense, powerful narrative with real momentum—as freighted with incident and portent as a work of Dickens . . . By this work’s exquisite close we own a reverberant sense of [Hazzard] and her full trajectory; what drove, delighted, and vexed her." —Joan Frank, The Boston Globe
"This is a fascinating, searching, compassionate book. It moved and transfixed me. More importantly, it has sent me back to Hazzard’s writing, which is so good I don’t think I could love someone who didn’t also adore it . . . It’s for her heart and her mind that you really read this book, in my case in two greedy, exhausting sittings. Olubas brings you close to both." —Rachel Cooke, The Guardian
"[An] in every way achieved and remarkable biography . . . It is strikingly well-paced and well-proportioned in its relation of a long life, and keeps a sound balance of youth and age, and books and life; one never has the feeling, familiar from many literary biographies, that all other life grinds to a halt when a book is published." —Michael Hofmann, Times Literary Supplement
"If ever there were a writer who required a biographer of style and sensibility, it’s Shirley Hazzard . . . Lucky for Hazzard, she has found an ideal chronicler in Brigitta Olubas, whose Shirley Hazzard: A Writing Life is an exemplary work of biographical criticism." —Anthony Domestico, The Baffler
"Meticulously crafted . . . Olubas’s biography is more than just a map of the author’s movements . . . It’s an account, as she puts it, of 'a writer in the process of making herself,' chronicling how geographic, political, and psychic influences coalesce in a refined deeply insightful perspective . . . This new account of [Hazzard's] life should confirm her as one of the 20th century’s greatest novelists." —Chloe Schama, Vogue
"Olubas constructs a fascinating portrait of Hazzard’s early life in Australia, and throughout she weaves in astute suggestions of biographical experiences that influenced Hazzard’s fiction . . . An impressive, revealing, and worthy biography of one of the most important writers of the last century.” —Alexander Moran, Booklist
"Shirley Hazzard’s life reads like something out of a Shirley Hazzard novel- precise, unique, lyrical and always riveting. What Brigitta Olubas has done for one of the 20th century's great prose stylists feels akin to what Ellmann did for Joyce, or Nabokov for Gogol. If there is such thing as a perfect literary biography, this is it." —Daniel Torday, author of Boomer1
"About one of her heroines Shirley Hazzard writes: 'To have known her was to understand that the human ideal is not a striving for perfection but for wholeness: she was true, vital, and entirely human, not a paragon but a criterion.' Brigitta Olubas's definitive biography of Hazzard captures in abundance the idealism and ardor of a great cosmopolitan artist, radiant and indispensable, a criterion indeed." —Benjamin Taylor, author of Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth
"A woman raised in tumult seeks a higher realm in art and literature in this rich biography . . . Hazzard emerges as intelligent, complex, and determined—fans of her work should check out this insightful portrait." —Publishers Weekly
"What a tremendous gift to Shirley Hazzard’s readers! The whole pageant is here in glorious, granular detail: the childhood beside Sydney Harbour, the steadfast engagement with Italy, the years at the centre of literary life in New York, the extraordinary fiction. Scenes and people and encounters described here haunt me as if I had witnessed them myself. Brigitta Olubas has unearthed a wealth of archival material, which she sifts with psychological acuity and a profound understanding of Hazzard’s work. The result is intimate, proportionate and supremely compelling." —Michelle de Kretser, author of On Shirley Hazzard