In 2009 as part of the Q150 celebrations, David Malouf was announced as one of the Q150 Icons of Queensland for his role as an "Influential Artists".
Malouf was born in Brisbane, Australia, to a Christian Lebanese father and an English-born mother of Portuguese Sephardi Jewish descent.
He was an avid reader as a child, and at 12 years old was reading such books as Wuthering Heights, Bleak House and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. These books, he says, taught him about sex: "They told you there was a life out there that was amazingly passionate". He attended Brisbane Grammar School and graduated from the University of Queensland in 1955. He lectured for a short period before moving to London, where he taught at Holland Park School before relocating to Birkenhead in 1962. He returned to Australia in 1968 and lectured at the University of Sydney, taught at his old school, and lectured in English at the Universities of Queensland and Sydney.
He has lived in England and Tuscany; for the past three decades, most of his time has been spent in Sydney. Like many writers, he values his privacy and enjoyed living in Tuscany "where he could think and write in anonymity".
He is openly gay and has one sister, Jill Phillips.
His first novel, Johnno (1975), is the semi-autobiographical tale of a young man growing up in Brisbane during World War II. It was adapted for the stage by La Boite Theatre in 2004. In 1982, his novella about three acquaintances and their experience of World War I, Fly Away Peter, won The Age Book of the Year fiction prize. His epic novel The Great World (1990) tells the story of two Australians and their relationship amid the turmoil of two World Wars, including imprisonment by the Japanese during World War II; the novel won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the French Prix Femina Étranger. His Booker Prize-shortlisted novel Remembering Babylon (1993) is set in northern Australia during the 1850s amid a community of English immigrant farmers (with one Scottish family) whose isolated existence is threatened by the arrival of a stranger, a young white man raised from boyhood by Indigenous Australians. It also won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (South East Asia and South Pacific Region, Best Book), and in 1996, it won the first International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
In 2007, his short-story collection Every Move You Make won The Age Book of the Year Award for Fiction and the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, Australian Short Story Collection – Arts Queensland Steele Rudd Award. Australian critic Peter Craven described it as "as formidable and bewitching a collection of stories as you would be likely to find anywhere in the English-speaking world". He goes on to say that "No one else in this country has: the maintenance of tone, the expertness of prose, the easeful transition between lyrical and realist effects. The man is a master, a superb writer, and also (which is not the same thing) a completely sophisticated literary gent".
Malouf has written several volumes of poetry, three collections of short stories, and a play, Blood Relations (1988). He has written libretti for three operas (including Voss, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Patrick White and first produced in the 1986 Adelaide Festival of Arts conducted by Stuart Challender), and Baa Baa Black Sheep (with music by Michael Berkeley), which combines a semi-autobiographical story by Rudyard Kipling with Kipling's Jungle Books. His memoirs, 12 Edmondstone Street, were published in 1985.
Malouf was awarded the Pascall Prize for Critical Writing in 1988. In 2008, Malouf won the Australian Publishers Association's Lloyd O'Neil Award for outstanding service to the Australian book industry He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2008.
Malouf says, on being a writer: "I totally reject the idea of being representative in any way. This whole idea of role models. It's a terrible idea. I don't like the idea of being some kind of representative consciousness of the country. You do what you do, the way you do it, out of a kind of necessity. I can't see how that would be useful to anyone else".
Malouf's writing is characterised by a heightened sense of spatial relations, from the physical environments into which he takes his readers—whether within or outside built spaces, or in a natural landscape. He has likened each of his succession of novels to the discovery and exploration of a new room in a house, rather than part of an overarching development. "At a certain point, you begin to see what the connections are between things, and you begin to know what space it is you are exploring." From his first book Johnno, his themes have focused on "male identity and soul-searching". He said that much of the male writing that preceded him "was about the world of action. I don't think that was ever an accurate description of men's lives". He believes that it was Patrick White who turned this around in Australian writing—that White's writing was the kind "that goes behind inarticulacy and or unwillingness to speak, writing that gives the language of feeling to people who don't have it themselves".
He said that "I knew that the world around you is only uninteresting if you can't see what is really going on. The place you come from is always the most exotic place you'll ever encounter because it is the only place where you recognise how many secrets and mysteries there are in people's lives". However, after nearly four decades of writing, he has concluded that in older writers there's sometimes "a fading of the intensity of the imagination, and ... of the interest in the tiny details of life and behaviour—you see [writers] getting a bit impatient with that."Johnno (1975)
An Imaginary Life (1978)
Fly Away Peter (1982)
Child's Play (1982)
Harland's Half Acre (1984)
The Great World (1990)
Remembering Babylon (1993)
The Conversations at Curlow Creek (1996)
Untold Tales (1999)
Dream Stuff (2000)
Every Move You Make (2006)
The Complete Stories (2007; Australia-Asia Literary Award)
Bicycle and Other Poems (1970)
Neighbours in a Thicket: Poems (1974)
Poems 1975-76 (1976)
Wild Lemons: Poems (1980)
Selected Poems 1959-1989 (1994)
Guide to the Perplexed and Other Poems (2007)
Typewriter Music (2007)
Revolving Days (2008)
Earth Hour (2014)
12 Edmondstone St (memoirs – 1985)
A Spirit of Play: The Making of Australian Consciousness - Boyer Lectures (1998)
Made in England (Quarterly Essay, Black Inc – 2003)
On Experience (Little Books on Big Themes – 2008)
The Happy Life (Quarterly Essay, Black Inc – 2011)
The Writing Life: Book 2 (2014)
Blood Relations (1988)
Mer de glace (1991)
Baa Baa Black Sheep (1993)
Jane Eyre (2000)