Miles Franklin was born in 1879 near Tumut, New South Wales. A fifth-generation Australian, Franklin grew up on grazing properties run by her family in the Monaro region. A decline in profits and the increasingly poorer properties taken up by the Franklin family were a major influence on the young Miles, an influence that is reflected in her fiction. At nineteen she wrote My Brilliant Career, the novel for which she is most admired. But the novel remained unpublished until 1901 when Henry Lawson supported its publication in London by Blackwood. The novel was well received, but the strong autobiographical links brought distress to match Franklin's fame because some members of her family were hurt by its personal nature. Nevertheless, it is widely regarded as an important study of the opportunities and expectations faced by young Australian women in the 1890s.
In the first years of the twentieth century Franklin wrote a sequel to her successful first novel, but My Career Goes Bung did not find a publisher until 1946. Franklin worked as a governess, teacher and nurse. She left Australia in 1906, travelling first to America, where she was heavily involved in the Women's Movement, then to England. Here she worked as a cook and volunteered as a nurse in Macedonia during World War I. She worked as a secretary in London after the war and, during the 1920s, she began to write pseudonymously a series of six well-received novels. In 1932 Franklin returned to Australia permanently, beginning her important contributions to the promotion and development of Australian literature. This culminated in her Commonwealth Literary Fund lectures delivered at the University of Western Australia in 1950. She was also a founding member of the Australian Book Society. She won several prizes for her writing, including the Prior Memorial Prize for her biography (with Kate Baker) of Joseph Furphy.
After her death in 1954, a large amount of her estate was bequeathed to initiate an annual prize for work in Australian literature. The Miles Franklin Award has become one of the most prestigious prizes in Australian literature, offering novelists and playwrights high esteem and (in 2001) a prize of $28,000.