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News & Media > Alumnae Awards > 2023 Alumnae Award Recipients > Dr Fiona McFarlane (1995)

Dr Fiona McFarlane (1995)

2023 Alumnae Award for Cultural Contribution
Dr Fiona McFarlane (1995)
Dr Fiona McFarlane (1995)

Internationally acclaimed fiction author, Dr Fiona McFarlane (1995) received a scholarship to complete Year 7 to Year 12 at MLC School. Throughout her high school years, she was a debating and public speaking champion, winning many school, state and national speaking and debating awards.

Fiona has said that MLC School developed her interest in History and English literature. In an April 2016 interview in for the 2016 Winter edition of Lucis, Fiona said:

“In many ways things are working out beyond my expectations as I always wanted to be a writer. At MLC School I always knew that’s what I wanted to be. High school years, teenage years, are so formative in terms of the books you’re reading and the ideas you’re encountering and I had specific teachers who made a big difference to the paths that my mind took, English teachers and History teachers especially. I formed friendships here that have been incredibly important to me as a writer as well as a human being, so I find it very hard to imagine myself now without having been at MLC School.”

In 2001, Fiona was the recipient of the University of Sydney University Medal when she graduated with Honours in English Literature with a thesis on the short fiction of Helen Garner and American author Lorrie Moore. After completing her undergraduate degree, Fiona worked as an arts journalist for State of the Art, writing both editorial and content pieces.

Fiona completed a PhD on nostalgia in contemporary American fiction at Cambridge University, UK covering the work of Toni Morrison, Paul Auster, Jeffrey Eugenides and the Cuban American writer Oscar Hijuelos. She spent three years at writing residencies in the US – at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts and Philips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire – before studying for a Masters of Fine Arts in Fiction at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas where she was a Michener Fellow.

Fiona’s first novel, The Night Guest, was published in 19 countries and 15 languages, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award, the 2014 Stella Prize, and was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. It won an LA Times Book Review Prize, an INDIE Award, the Dobbie Literary Award, the 2014 Prime Minister’s Award, the 2014 Barbara Jefferis Award, the inaugural Voss Literary Prize, a NSW Premier’s Prize, and Fiona was named a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist for 2014.

In 2017, Fiona’s next creative output, a short story collection The High Places, won the International Dylan Thomas Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes for young authors. The prize is given to the best work of English language fiction written by an author aged 39 or under. The book also won a Queensland Literary Award in 2016, was shortlisted for the Readings New Australian Writing Award and received a Stella Prize longlisting where it was described as “consistently brilliant, inventive and memorable. These are richly observed stories about complex people and situations, told by a gifted writer.”

The Sun Walks Down, Fiona’s latest novel published in 2022 has received rapturous reviews from across the globe, including Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and The Dutch House, who wrote “The Sun Walks Down is the book I'm always longing to find: brilliant, fresh and compulsively readable. It is marvellous. I loved it from start to finish.” The Sun Walks Down has so far been longlisted for the 2023 Best Fiction, Indie Book Awards and the 2023 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, UK.

Fiona has also had numerous short stories published in a variety of high-quality literary journals: Zoetrope: All-Story, Southerly, Best Australian Stories, New Australian Stories 2, the Missouri Review and The New Yorker. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley.

Fiona has been described by Michelle de Kretser, twice winner of the Miles Franklin Award, as “an extraordinary writer, one of the best working today”; by Miles Franklin winner Sofie Laguna as “accomplished, assured, elegant and insightful”; and by Stella Prize winner Emily Britto “McFarlane's writing is assured, masterful, nothing short of brilliant”.

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