J.M. Coetzee

J.M. Coetzee Biography

Author (1940–)
The author of such novels as Disgrace and The Childhood of Jesus, J.M. Coetzee has explored the conflicts and experiences of apartheid South Africa in his work. In 2003, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.


Author and literary critic J.M. Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1940. He published his first novel, Dusklands, in 1974. In 1984, Coetzee won the Booker Prize for The Life & Times of Michael K. He also published three autobiographical works, Boyhood (1997), Youth (2000) and Summertime (2009). Coetzee won his second Booker Prize in 1999 for Disgrace. In 2003, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His more recent works include the 2013 novel The Childhood of Jesus.

Early Life

Born John Maxwell Coetzee on February 9, 1940, in Cape Town, South African, writer J.M. Coetzee has created such acclaimed works as The Life & Times of Michael K (1983) and Disgrace (1999). He is the son of a schoolteacher and a lawyer. Growing up in the 1940s and '50s, Coetzee saw firsthand the injustices of apartheid, a practice of racial segregation.

In 1957, Coetzee enrolled at the University of Cape Town, where he earned a degree in English in 1960 and a degree in mathematics the following year. Leaving South Africa, Coetzee spent three years in England, where he began researching the work of Ford Maddox Ford. He then went to the United States, where he earned a doctorate degree in English from the University of Texas at Austin in 1968.

Literary Successes

J.M. Coetzee published his first novel, Dusklands, in South Africa in 1974. Three years, he won his native country's top literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, for In the Heart of the Country (1977). With his next novel, Waiting for the Barbarians, the author began to build an international reputation.

In 1984, Coetzee won the Booker Prize for The Life and Times of Michael K. The novel, set in the writer's native Cape Town during a time of racial war, focuses on one man's journey to bring his mother to her childhood home. In keeping with Coetzee's reclusive nature, he did not travel to London to collect the prize.

More novels soon followed, including Foe (1986) and The Master of Petersburg (1994). Coetzee received especially strong praise for Disgrace (1999), including another Booker Prize—making him the first author to win Britain's most famous literary prize twice. Featuring a white woman who is raped by three black men, Disgrace proved to be controversial as well.

Coetzee also branched out into memoirs around this time, releasing Boyhood in 1997 and Youth in 2002. In line with his unique style and somewhat secretive nature, he wrote these works in third person and in present tense. Coetzee has published several essay collections as well, including White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa (1990), Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship (1996) and Stranger Shores: Literary Essays.

Nobel Prize Winner

In 2002, Coetzee emigrated to Australia with partner Dorothy Driver. (He was married to Philippa Jubber from 1963 to 1980). He has two children from his marriage to Jubber, son Nicholas and daughter Gisela. Nicholas died in 1989. Coetzee and Driver settled in Adelaide, where he received a professorship at the city's university.

Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003, deemed an author "who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider," according to the , the selection committee also noted that "a fundamental theme in Coetzee's novels involves the values and conduct resulting from South Africa's apartheid system, which, in his view, could arise anywhere."

Since winning the prize, Coetzee has published several novels, including Elizabeth Costello (2003), Slow Man (2005) and Diary of a Bad Year (2007). Summertime, published in 2009, is another one of the author's unusual forays into autobiography. This time around, he wrote the work as if he were already dead. In 2013, Coetzee released the novel The Childhood of Jesus.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!