O'Sullivan is a New Zealand poet, short story writer, novelist, playwright, critic and editor. With degrees from the University of Auckland (1959) and the University of Oxford (1962), he lectured at Victoria University of Wellington (1963-1966) and the University of Waikato (1968-1978) before becoming a fulltime writer. O'Sullivan was literary editor of the New Zealand Listener (1979-1980) and from 1981 to 1987 was awarded a series of writers' residencies and research fellowships at Australian and New Zealand universities: Victoria (Wellington), Tasmania, Deakin, Flinders, Western Australia and Queensland. In 1988 he resumed his academic career as professor of English at Victoria University of Wellington. In 1997 he became director of the University's Stout Research Centre. O'Sullivan retired from Victoria University in 2002 and continued to live in Wellington. In 2004 he was awarded the $100,000 Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers' Fellowship to write two novels and a collection of short stories. In 2005 he won the Poetry category of the Montana New Zealand Book Awards.
O'Sullivan is regarded as one of New Zealand's most distinguished and versatile writers with drama, poetry, short stories, novels and biography to his name. As well as his creative writing, O'Sullivan has written an acclaimed biography of New Zealand writer, John Mulgan, titled Long Journey to the Border (2004) and published a five volume edition of The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield (1984-1996). There has been little reflection of O'Sullivan's Australian sojourns in his creative writing nor an evaluation of the writer in an Australian context. He has written widely on Australian poetry in Australian newspapers, scholarly journals and literary magazines. O'Sullivan edited TheUnsparing Scourge : Australian satirical texts 1845-1860 (1988), an anthology. His one creative work with an Australian setting was the play Billy (1989), set in the New South Wales penal colony in the 1820s and featuring an Aboriginal servant. It is worth noting that the play was first performed in Wellington, New Zealand and published by Victoria University Press in the New Zealand Playscripts series.
(Source: Adapted from The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature ed. Roger Robinson and Nelson Wattie (1998): 418-421; Iain Sharp, 'Poet In Motion', Sunday Star-Times (24 July 2005): 7.)