J.M. Coetzee: A Brief Introduction

Lucy Valerie Graham, Lincoln College, Oxford

"I am not a herald of community or anything else. I am someone who has intimations of freedom (as every chained prisoner has) and constructs representations of people slipping their chains and turning their faces to the light." -- J.M. Coetzee.

J.M. Coetzee is among the most critically revered of world writers. His work engages with a vast literary heritage, and brings into question the investment of authority in literary discourse, as well as the power dynamics and oppression in society. Coetzee was born in South Africa in 1940 and began writing his first novel, Dusklands, while teaching at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1970. The novel, which is divided into two major sections, is a critique of the colonization of southern Africa of the American involvement in the Vietnam War

. Coetzee returned to South Africa in 1972, accepting a position in literature at the University of Cape Town. To date, he is the author of nine works of fiction, two autobiographical works, and a number of critical essays. White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa is a critical engagement with literature produced by white writers in South Africa. His novel, The Life and Times of Michael K, a Kafkaesque exploration of a dystopian South Africa, won the Booker Prize in 1983. When Disgrace, set in post-apartheid South Africa, won the Booker Prize in 1999, Coetzee became the first writer to win the prestigious award twice. Coetzee was recently given an honorary doctorate by Rhodes University (South Africa), and by the University of Oxford. In conferring the latter degree at the Sheldonian Theatre, the Chancellor, Lord Jenkins, hailed Coetzee as "a sturdy champion of justice, as well as a most inventive story teller" who tells us "of the sufferings of individuals in such a way that we never lose sight of the general questions of the morality of society".

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Last modied May 2000