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Shirley Hazzard (30 January 1931 – 12 December 2016) was an Australian-American novelist, short story writer, and essayist. She was born in Australia and also held United States citizenship.
Hazzard's 1970 novel, The Bay of Noon, was shortlisted for the Lost Man Booker Prize in 2010; her 2003 novel The Great Fire won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction, the Miles Franklin Award and the William Dean Howells Medal. Hazzard also wrote non-fiction, including two books based on her experiences working at the United Nations Secretariat, which were highly critical of the organisation.
Hazzard was born in Sydney to a Welsh father (Reginald Hazzard) and a Scottish mother (Catherine Stein Hazzard), both of whom had immigrated to Australia in the 1920s. She attended Queenwood School for Girls in Mosman, Sydney, but left in 1947 when her father became a diplomat and was posted to Hong Kong.
Her parents had intended for her to study at the university there, but it had been destroyed in the war. Instead, at the age of 16, Hazzard began working for the British Combined Intelligence Services, until she was "brutally removed by destiny" – first to Australia, as her sister was ill, and then to New Zealand when her father became Australian Trade Commissioner there. She said of her experience of the East that "I began to feel that people could enjoy life, should enjoy life".
At the age of 20, in 1951, Hazzard and her family moved to New York City and she worked at the United Nations Secretariat as a typist for about 10 years. In 1956, Hazzard was posted to Naples for a year and began to explore Italy; she visited annually for several years afterward.
Hazzard wrote her first short story, "Woollahra Road", in 1960 while in Siena, and it was accepted and published by The New Yorker magazine the following year. She resigned from her position at the United Nations and began writing full time. Her first book, Cliffs of Fall, published in 1963, was a collection of stories which had previously appeared in the magazine. Her first novel, The Evening of the Holiday, was published in 1966. Her second, The Bay of Noon, appeared in 1970, and follows British people in Italy shortly after the Second World War. The Transit of Venus, her third novel, is described by The Guardian as her "breakthrough". It follows a pair of sisters from Australia, who are living very different lives from each other in post-war Britain. American academic Michael Gorra writes: "Its social landscape will be familiar to any reader of Lessing or Murdoch or Drabble, and yet it is not an English novel. Hazzard lacks the concern with gentility — for or against — that marks almost all English writers of her generation. She has the keenest of eyes for the nuances of class ... and yet doesn't appear to have anything herself at stake in getting it all down."
Her final novel, The Great Fire, appeared more than 20 years later. Its protagonist is a British war hero in Asia a few years after the war.
In addition to fiction, Hazzard wrote two non-fiction books critical of the United Nations: Defeat of an Ideal (1973) and Countenance of Truth (1990). In Defeat of an Ideal Hazzard presented evidence of the apparently widespread McCarthyism in the Secretariat from 1951-55.
In Countenance of Truth Hazzard alleged that senior international diplomats had been aware of the Nazi past of Kurt Waldheim yet had allowed him to rise through the Secretariat ranks to the position of Secretary-General, a claim she had first made in an article in The New Republic in 1980. Her collection of short stories, People in Glass Houses, is presented as a satire on "The Organisation", but this fiction is manifestly inspired by the United Nations.
She wrote Greene on Capri, a memoir of her friendship with Graham Greene, whom she met in the 1960s and considered an influence. Her last work of nonfiction, The Ancient Shore: Dispatches from Naples (2008), is a collection of writings on Naples, Italy, co-authored with her husband, Francis Steegmuller.
Style and themes
Hazzard admired the writing of Henry James and Ivy Compton-Burnett, and critics have noted similarities with their work, particularly in the use of dialogue. Critics describe Hazzard's writing style as "austere" and concise.
Critics have noted that Hazzard's characters and plots often mirrored events and people in her own life. According to one commentator, Hazzard's early life "was a carbon copy of Helen Driscoll's" (the heroine of The Great Fire). Helen and her brother, the dying Benedict, are described as "wonderfully well-read, a poetic pair who live in literature", and Hazzard once said that poetry had always been the centre of her life. In addition, the character of Helen Driscoll had to move to New Zealand, as Hazzard had done. Similarly, the character of Elizabeth in Hazzard's short story "Sir Cecil's Ride" is young, living in Hong Kong, and working for Combined Services Intelligence.
Awards and honours
In 1977, Hazzard's short story "A Long Story Short", originally published in The New Yorker on 26 July 1976, received an O. Henry Award. The Transit of Venus won the 1980 National Book Critics Circle Award. The Great Fire garnered the 2003 National Book Award, the 2004 Miles Franklin Award, and the 2005 William Dean Howells Medal; it was also shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, longlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize, and named a 2003 Book of the Year by The Economist. The Bay of Noon was nominated for the Lost Man Booker Prize in 2010.
In 1984, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation invited Hazzard to give the Boyer Lectures, a series of radio talks delivered each year by a prominent Australian. The talks were published the following year under the title Coming of Age in Australia. In 2012, a conference was held in her honor at the New York Society Library and Columbia University.
In 1963, Hazzard married the writer Francis Steegmuller, and the couple moved to Europe. They initially lived in Paris, with visits to Italy, and in the early 1970s settled in Capri. They also kept an apartment in New York City. Steegmuller died in 1994.
Hazzard died in New York City on 12 December 2016, aged 85. She was reported to have had dementia.
Short story collections