J. M. Coetzee

Banquet speech

J. M. Coetzee’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 2003.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen; Distinguished Guests, Friends

The other day, suddenly, out of the blue, while we were talking about something completely different, my partner Dorothy burst out as follows: “On the other hand,” she said, “on the other hand, how proud your mother would have been! What a pity she isn’t still alive! And your father too! How proud they would have been of you!”

“Even prouder than of my son the doctor?” I said. “Even prouder than of my son the professor?”

“Even prouder.”

“If my mother were still alive,” I said, “she would be ninety-nine and a half. She would probably have senile dementia. She would not know what was going on around her.”

But of course I missed the point. Dorothy was right. My mother would have been bursting with pride. My son the Nobel Prize winner. And for whom, anyway, do we do the things that lead to Nobel Prizes if not for our mothers?

Mommy, Mommy, I won a prize!

That’s wonderful, my dear. Now eat your carrots before they get cold.

Why must our mothers be ninety-nine and long in the grave before we can come running home with the prize that will make up for all the trouble we have been to them?

To Alfred Nobel, 107 years in the grave, and to the Foundation that so faithfully administers his will and that has created this magnificent evening for us, my heartfelt gratitude. To my parents, how sorry I am that you cannot be here.

Thank you.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2003

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