Debra Adelaide's literary career commenced in the late 1980s, and since then she has been a freelance writer, book reviewer, editor, researcher, and finally an academic. She studied at the University of Sydney, where she also worked as a tutor in the English department in the early 1980s and completed a doctorate in Australian literature in 1990.
Her first novel, The Hotel Albatross, was published in 1995. Prior to that she was the author of Australian Women Writers, a bibliographic guide, and editor of the collection A Bright and Fiery Troop (1988), which was part of Penguin's ground-breaking Australian Women's Library series, edited by Dale Spender, which reintroduced the work of nineteenth- and twentieth-century women writers to contemporary readers. She also researched the life and writing of Dymphna Cusack, and rediscovered, edited and published Cusack's previously unpublished memoir, A Window in the Dark (1991) as part of a National Library of Australia series based on its manuscript collections.
In 1996 Debra Adelaide published Motherlove, the first of her edited collections in a much-loved and bestselling series that brought together the work of a wide range of women writers from a variety of backgrounds. This was quickly followed by Motherlove 2 (1997) and Cutting the Cord (1998) and the series was the first in Australia (possibly the world) to examine the role of mothering in fiction and non-fiction. Its contributors included Noni Hazlehurst, Rachel Ward, Debra Oswald, Anna Maria Dell'oso, Gabrielle Lord, Brenda Walker, Mem Fox, Gabrielle Carey and Anne Deveson, among numerous others. In 1998 Debra Adelaide published her second novel, the historical fiction Serpent Dust, which was based on the smallpox epidemic which decimated the Indigenous population in Sydney in 1789.
By the early 2000s Debra was writing the weekly 'In Short' book review column for Spectrum in the weekend Sydney Morning Herald, and working as a casual lecturer in creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney. In 2003 she was appointed to the permanent staff of the University of Technology, Sydney, and later that year published the edited collection Acts of Dog, which featured stories and essays by writers such as Carmel Bird, Susan Wyndham, Louis Nowra and Robyn Williams.
Her novel The Household Guide to Dying was published by Picador in 2008 after an intense bidding war first in Australia and then internationally, and was ultimately released in the UK, Canada and the USA and translated into several languages including French, German, Spanish, Italian and Chinese. In 2013 Picador published her first collection of short stories, Letter to George Clooney, which was short- and longlisted for three literary awards. Debra Adelaide's latest book is the edited collection The Simple Act of Reading, which includes essays on particular books, authors or reading experiences, in support of the Sydney Story Factory. Its contributors include Rosie Scott, David Malouf, Andy Griffiths, Gail Jones, Anita Heiss, Delia Falconer and Luke Davies.
Debra Adelaide has also contributed to the acclaimed collection of essays and stories devoted to the plight of asylum seekers and refugees, A Country Too Far (2013), edited by Rosie Scott and Tom Keneally; and recently to the Mothers & Others collection about the many aspects of mothering, published by Pan Macmillan in 2015.
Her latest novel to be published by Picador is The Women's Pages, an examination of the extraordinary secrets and silences in the lives of ordinary women, as well as the mysterious process of creativity, which is intriguingly inspired by Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights.
Her fiction has been shortlisted for several literary awards including twice for the Nita B. Kibble Award for women writers (for which coincidentally she was also a judge for several years), and the Stella Prize. In recent years Debra Adelaide has been active in Sydney PEN and involved in the Sydney Story Factory, and is a judge of the Patrick White Award.
At the University of Technology, Sydney, she is now an associate professor, where her students exist in ever-growing and talented numbers. At home the number of children has decreased and the number of dogs has increased, but she is still the proud mother of Joe, Elle and Callan, and is also the loved and loving partner of Antony.