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John Maxwell Coetzee

AKA John Michael Coetzee

Born: 9-Feb-1940
Birthplace: Cape Town, South Africa

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Novelist, Essayist

Nationality: South Africa
Executive summary: Reclusive South African novelist, essayist

South African writer John Maxwell Coetzee (pronounced kutˈsee) is noted for novels with a passionate albeit often allegorical stance against imperialism, apartheid, and the violence that raged across his country in the first years after apartheid's end. His books have been critically acclaimed for their feel for marginalized or isolated characters, an unusual ability to cross lines of racial identity, and a keen ability to describe rural settings.

His most widely read novel, The Life and Times of Michael K, tells the story of a gardener, withdrawn and harelipped, who wants to take his sick mother out of riot-ravaged Cape Town, and, denied a permit to travel, pushes her out of the city in a wheelbarrow. Among his other works of fiction, Disgrace offers a blunt appraisal of the social order in post-apartheid South Africa; Foe tells the story of a white woman shipwrecked with a black slave who cannot speak; and In the Heart of the Country describes a lonely white woman having an incestuous relationship with her father, until a black manservant kills him, rapes her, and leaves her to survive alone on the farm.

Coetzee's work has smudged the line between fiction and non-fiction, including three novels involving his fictional alter ego, writer Elizabeth Costello. In Slow Man, an old, disabled man falls in love with his younger caretaker, and about a third of the way through the novel the reader learns that the story so far has been a fiction within the fiction the protagonist is a character in a novel by Costello, and Coetzee/Costello then proceeds to explore several different alternatives for where the story could go next. In Diary of a Bad Year, Costello is presented as having actually written some of Coetzee's earlier novels.

Notoriously reclusive, Coetzee was rarely seen in South African literary circles, and he has lived in Australia since 2002, where he is now a citizen. He deals with the media only rarely, and his public comments are generally rare and issued in riddles and codes. He did not attend the ceremonies when he won the Man Booker Prize in 1984 for his novel The Life and Times of Michael K, nor when he became the first author to win a second Booker in 1999 for Disgrace. He did make an appearance in Stockholm to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

Father: Zacharias Coetzee (sheep farmer)
Mother: Vera Wehmeyer Coetzee (school teacher)
Wife: Phillipa Jubber (m. 1963, div. 1980)
Son: Nicholas (b. 1966, d. 1989)
Daughter: Gisela (b. 1968)
Girlfriend: Dorothy Driver

    High School: St. Joseph's College, Rondebosch, South Africa (1957)
    University: BA Mathematics, University of Cape Town (1961)
    University: MA Literature, University of Texas (1963)
    University: PhD English Literature and Linguistics, University of Texas (1969)
    Teacher: English Literature, SUNY Buffalo (1969-71)
    Teacher: English Literature, University of Cape Town (1971-83)
    Professor: English Literature, University of Cape Town (1983-2002)
    Fellow: English Literature, University of Adelaide (2002-)

    CNA Literary Award 1977, for In the Heart of the Country
    CNA Literary Award 1980, for Waiting for the Barbarians
    James Tait Black Memorial Prize 1980, for Waiting for the Barbarians
    Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize 1981, for Waiting for the Barbarians
    Man Booker Prize for Fiction 1983, for The Life and Times of Michael K.
    CNA Literary Award 1984, for The Life and Times of Michael K.
    Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society 1987, for Foe
    Man Booker Prize for Fiction 1999, for Disgrace
    Nobel Prize for Literature 2003
    Christina Stead Prize for Fiction 2009, for Summertime
    IBM Computer Programmer (1961-62)
    International PEN
    English Ancestry
    South African Ancestry
    Naturalized Australian Citizen 2006

Author of books:
Dusklands (1974, novel)
In the Heart of the Country (1976, novel)
Waiting for the Barbarians (1980, novel)
The Life and Times of Michael K (1983, novel)
Foe (1986, novel)
White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa (1988)
Age of Iron (1990, novel)
Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews (1992, essays)
The Master of Petersburg (1994, novel)
Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship (1997, essays)
Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life (1997, novel)
Disgrace (1999, novel)
The Lives of Animals (1999)
Stranger Shores (2001, essays)
Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II (2002, novel)
Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons (2003, lectures)
Slow Man (2005, novel)
Diary of A Bad Year (2007, novel)
Inner Workings (2007, essays)
Summertime (2009, novel)


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