John Coetzee

Professor John Coetzee

  • Post Nominals: FAHA
  • Fellow Type: Honorary Fellow
  • Elected to the Academy: 2004


John Maxwell Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa, on 9 February 1940. His father was an attorney, his mother a schoolteacher. Though neither side of the family was of British descent, the language spoken at home was English. He received his schooling in Cape Town and in the nearby town of Worcester. He matriculated in 1956 from St Joseph’s College, where he was taught by brothers of the Marist order.
He entered the University of Cape Town in 1957, and in 1960 and 1961 graduated successively with honours degree in English and Mathematics. He spent the years 1962 – 65 in England, working as a computer programmer while doing research for a thesis on the English novelist Ford Madox Ford. In 1963 he married Philippa Jubber (1939 – 1991). They had two children, Nicolas (1966 – 1989) and Gisela (b.1968).In 1965 he entered the graduate school of the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied English, Linguistics, and Germanic languages, and wrote a dissertation on the early fiction of Samuel Beckett. He obtained his PhD in 1969. For three years (1968 – 71) he was Assistant Professor of English at the State University of New York in Buffalo. After an application for permanent residence in the United States was denied, he returned to South Africa. From 1972 until 2000 he held a series of positions at the University of Cape Town, the last as Distinguished Professor of Literature. Between 1984 and his retirement in 2003 he also taught regularly in the United States: at the State University of New York, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, Stanford University, and for six years at the University of Chicago, where he was Distinguished Service Professor of Social Thought.

He published his first work of fiction, Dusklands, in 1974. In the Heart of the Country (1977)won South Africa’s then principal literary award, the C N A Prize. Waiting for the Barbarians (1980) was the first of his novels to receive internationeal notice. His reputation was confirmed by Life & Times of Michael K (1983), which won Britain’s Booker Prize. It was followed by Foe ( 1986), Age of Iron (1990), The Master of Petersburg (1994), and Disgrace (1999), which again won the Booker Prize. He has written two fictionalized memoirs, Boyhood (1997) and Youth (2002). The Lives of Animals (1999) is a fictionalized lecture, later absorbed into Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons (2003). White Writing (1988) is a set of essays on South African literature and culture. Doubling the Point (1992) consists of essays and interviews with David Atwell. Giving Offence (1969) is a study of literary censorship. Stranger Shores (2001) collects his later literary essays. He has also been active as a translator of Dutch and Afrikaans literature.

In 2002 he emigrated to Australia. He lives with his partner Dorothy Driver in Adelaide, South Africa, where he holds an honorary position at the University of Adelaide. He holds nine honorary doctorates, including a doctorate in letters from Oxford University. In 2003 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Australian Academy of the Humanities recognises Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land, and their continuous connection to country, community and culture.