Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940, J. M. Coetzee* studied first at Cape Town, earning degrees in English and mathematics. He worked for several years as a computer programmer while he researched his thesis on the novelist Ford Madox Ford. In 1968 he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a PhD in English, linguistics, and Germanic languages. His dissertation was on the early fiction of Samuel Beckett.
After three years as an assistant professor at SUNY Buffalo, his application for permanent residence in the U.S. was denied as a consequence of his anti-Vietnam war activism. In 1972 he returned to South Africa and joined the faculty of the University of Cape Town where he held a series of positions until 2000. In the 80's and 90's he also taught frequently in the States: at the State University of New York, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago, where for six years he was a member of the Committee on Social Thought. He has also been active as a translator of Dutch and Afrikaans literature.
Coetzee's first work of fiction, Dusklands, was published in South Africa in 1974. In the Heart of the Country (1977) won South Africa's highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, followed by Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), which received international acclaim. In 1983 Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize for Life and Times of Michael K. He has also published a memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life, and several collections of essays. He has won many other literary prizes including the Lannan Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize and The Irish Times International Fiction Prize. In 1999 he again won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize for Disgrace, becoming the first author to win the award twice in its 31-year history. In 2003 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Coetzee emigrated to Australia in 2002, where he has an honorary position at the University of Adelaide.
*Sources differ as to whether J. M. Coetzee stands for John Michael or John Maxwell. His publisher's site lists him as John Michael, as does biography.com. However, the Nobel site and some others show him as John Maxwell. BookBrowse believes that Maxwell is correct. "Coetzee" is pronounced "cut-ZEE-uh."
This article was originally published in February 2010, and has been updated for the
October 2010 paperback release.
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