Wednesday, 3 April 2013

J. M. Coetzee

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J. M. Coetzee in Warsaw
Photo: Mariusz Kubik 2006
Among African writers whose names have spread over the frontiers of their countries and their continent of origin J. M. Coetzee is certainly one of the most renowned. Since 1980 at the latest his novels have been internationally not only noticed, but acclaimed. Over the past decades the reclusive South African and now also Australian received many important literature awards (some of them twice or even thrice). In 2003 his writings earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature.

John Maxwell Coetze, usually abbreviated as J. M. Coetze, was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in February 1940. Stemming from an old family of the Afrikaner minority in South Africa, his childhood on a farm in Worcester, Western Cape, hasn’t been easy, even less so because his father, a lawyer, was openly critical of the reigning Apartheid regime and lost his government job in 1948. Despite all J. M. Coetze studied English and Mathematics at the University of Cape Town. 

In 1962, with two Bachelor of Arts degrees in his pocket, J. M. Coetze moved to the U.K. (where he worked as a computer programmer) and earned his Master of Arts from the University of Cape Town in 1963. Two years later the Fulbright Program brought him to Austin in Texas, USA, where he did his PhD in linguistics. In the finals stages of his studies he became an assistant professor of English at the State University of New York in Buffalo. 

When J. M. Coetze was refused permanent residency in the USA in 1971 because he had taken part in anti-Vietnam-war protests, he returned to South Africa where he taught English Literature at the University of Cape Town until his retirement in 2002. Having been charmed by the beauty and spirit of Australia ever since 1990, when he had been a writer-in-residence at the University of Queensland, he moved to Adelaide and became an Australian citizen in 2006. 

J. M. Coetze started his career as a fiction writer with the book Dusklands that first came out in South Africa in 1974. Three years later the award-winning novel In the Heart of the Country was published in South Africa, then in the UK and the USA. His first true international success, however, was the novel Waiting for the Barbarians that appeared in 1980. It was followed by many other highly successful and often controversial novels like Foe (1986), Age of Iron (1990), Disgrace (1999), Elizabeth Costello (2003), or Slow Man (2005). His latest novel, The Childhood of Jesus, was released in March 2013.

In addition to the fiction that J. M. Coetze is famous for, he also published fictionalized autobiographies: Boyhood (1997), Youth (2002), and Summertime (2009) that were brought out in one volume under the title Scenes from Provincial Life in 2011. Several essays, literary criticisms and translations round up the writer’s literary creations.

The writer's fictionalized memoirs:

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