Markus Zusak is the youngest of four children, born on June 23, 1975, in Sydney, Australia, the son of working class immigrants, Lisa and Helmut Zusak from Austria. The parents came to Australia in the 1950s. His father is a house painter, and his mother has been a maid. He graduated from Engadine High School in Sydney and later taught English there. At the University of New South Wales he studied English and History with a diploma to teach. Like Max Vandenburg, Markus grew up as a boxer, boxing with his older brother.
Zusak's young-adult books have been published internationally and have won many awards. The Book Thief (2005) was a New York Times best-seller and made into a successful film in 2013, shot in Berlin by 20th Century Fox, starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Sophie Nélisse. Zusak used stories his parents told him about World War II as the background. He writes about the young overcoming hardship, about survival, heroism, and friendship. The Underdog (1999), is about a shy boy overcoming fear in the boxing ring. Fighting Ruben Wolfe (2000), concerns the Wolfe brothers, blue-collar teens trying to make money with illegal boxing matches. When Dogs Cry (2001), is about a young author just learning to express himself. The Messenger (published in the United States as I Am the Messenger), published in 2002, is about a cab driver who becomes a hero and finally begins to believe in himself by helping others. Underdogs: Three Novels (2011), contains all the earlier novels about the Wolfe brothers.
Zusak won the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 2014 for lifetime contribution to young-adult fiction. Other awards include the Sydney Morning Herald's Young Australian Novelist of the Year, 2006, the Deutscher Jugendliteratur Prize in Germany, and the Printz Honor Book, 2006 for I am the Messenger.
Zusak lives in Sydney with his wife and two children. A powerful speaker with many engagements, his inspirational talks can be sampled on YouTube.