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”
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.