J. M. Coetzee


John M. Coetzee

Photo from the Nobel Foundation archive.

John M. Coetzee
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2003

Born: 9 February 1940, Cape Town, South Africa

Residence at the time of the award: South Africa

Prize motivation: “who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider”

Language: English

Prize share: 1/1


J.M. Coetzee is a South African author and literary critic who now resides in Australia. During the 1960s he worked as a programmer for IBM in London, which he describes in the semi-autobiographical novel The Young Years. During the 1970s he applied for permanent residence, but was denied it due to his involvement in protests against the Vietnam War. He returned instead to Cape Town, where he taught English literature until 2002.


Coetzee made his debut in 1974 with the novel Dusklands, but his international breakthrough came a few years later with Waiting for the Barbarians. A recurring theme in J.M. Coetzee’s novels is a crucial situation, where right and wrong are put to the test and where people’s weaknesses and defeat become fundamental to the story’s development. As an alter ego in Coetzee’s writing, both an older male academician and the female author Elizabeth Costello recur. His prose is rigorous and analytical.

To cite this section
MLA style: J. M. Coetzee – Facts. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2023. Fri. 29 Sep 2023. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/2003/coetzee/facts/>

Back to top Back To Top Takes users back to the top of the page

Coming up

This year’s Nobel Prize announcements will take place 2–9 October. All announcements will be streamed live here on nobelprize.org.

See the full schedule
Announcement dates

Explore prizes and laureates

Look for popular awards and laureates in different fields, and discover the history of the Nobel Prize.