Jessica Anderson was born in 1916 at Gayndah, Queensland. After the family moved to Brisbane, Queensland, in the 1920s for better educational opportunities, she attended Yeronga State School and Brisbane State High. In 1935, after some training in art at the Brisbane Technical College Art School, she left for Sydney, New South Wales. She remained in Sydney, except for several periods in England, for the rest of her life.
In Sydney Anderson wrote, mostly under pseudonyms, stories for periodicals and for radio. Her adaptations of literary works for radio developed her sense of structure and her ear for dialogue. She also wrote three original radio dramas during the 1960s and early 1970s.
Anderson's first novel, An Ordinary Lunacy (1963), the first under her own name, was published in England because she rightly believed that Australian publishers would baulk at the tale of sexual obsession. Her next three novels suffered from poor marketing and attracted little attention until her first Australian published novel, Tirra Lirra by the River, won the Miles Franklin Award in 1978. After that success her fiction began to attract more recognition and her next novel, The Impersonators (1980), also won several awards.
Her fiction appeared on university syllabi and has been analysed in a number of book-length studies. Her explorations of identity in relation to family and place focus particularly on women, exhibiting the influence of Christina Stead and Henry James. Her fiction displays an impressive use of language and experimentation with narrative form.
The Impersonators1980single work novel When Sylvia Foley returns to Australia after twenty years, she finds her father, Jack Cornock, ill. This and his obstinate silence provoke speculation about his will among the families of his two marriages, Sylvia becomes enmeshed in the webs of their alliances and disaffections. The Impersonators portrays the breakdown of family relationships and the endurance of love in a materialistic age. (Source: Sydney University Press)