John Maxwell Coetzee Biography

John Maxwell Coetzee is a man of international repute, famous for writing books in a unique style. He is also a translator and poet. He is without doubt the most celebrated South African author of international acclaim. In 2003, he won a Nobel Prize in literature. His works are an expression of political and social matters written in a fascinating and creative way.

John Maxwell Coetzee
John Maxwell Coetzee

In Richard Poplak’s words (The Daily Maverick) he is “inarguably the most celebrated and decorated living English-language author”. A total eleven Universities warded him with honorary degrees for various works of his writing.

John Maxwell Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa on the nineth of February twenty forty.

Coetzee is the first born of three children of Zacharias Coetzee and Vera Coetzee. His father Zacharias was a trained attorney but did not always fully practice as an attorney. Zacharias served in the South African forces, working in North Africa and Italy.

John Coetzee’s mother was a schoolteacher in the government. The Coetzee family predominantly spoke English in the house, although none of the parents had a British origin.

Education & Work Life of John Maxwell Coetzee.

The prolific writer is a well-educated man, having graduated from The University of Cape Town and University of Texas at Austin, in the United States.

After matriculating in 1956, John Coetzee was admitted at Cape Town University in 1957, where he graduated with an honours degrees in English (1960) and Mathematics (1961).

He then took up research for a thesis on the English novelist Ford Madox Ford, while working as a computer programmer in England between 1962 and 1965. His employment was with IBM in London and ICT (International Computers and Tabulators) in Bracknell. In that same period, In 1963, the University of Cape Town awarded him a Master of Arts degree for his thesis “The Works of Ford Madox Ford with Particular Reference to the Novels”.

In 1965 Coetzee entered the graduate school of the University of Texas at Austin, and in 1968 graduated with a PhD in English, linguistics, and Germanic languages.

The renowned writer has worked in the academic circles for various Universities in the USA, at the State University of New York, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago between 1984 and 2003.

Permanent Residency USA

He served on the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago until 2003.

However, despite his work experience in the United States of America, he was denied permanent residency partly due to his participation in Vietnam War protects. He was also one of 45 faculty members who occupied the university’s Hayes Hall that were arrested for criminal trespass (1970), but the charges were later dropped in 1971.

In 1972 Coetzee returned to South Africa to lecturer in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Cape Town. He rose through the ranks and became professor of General Literature in 1984. Ten years later he became Arderne Professor in English, and in 1999 he was appointed Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Humanities.

He was awarded emeritus status in 2002 when he retired.

Novels and Works of Fiction by John Maxwell Coetzee

1969, Coetzee began his works of fiction and in 1974 his first novel, Dusklands, was published in South Africa.

But it was the book Waiting for The Barbarians that won him international recognition. Here is a short list of his publications

In the Heart of the Country (1977) – won literary award, the CNA Prize

Waiting for the Barbarians (1980)

Life & Times of Michael K (1983)

Foe (1986)

Age of Iron (1990)

The Master of Petersburg (1994)

Disgrace (1999) – won the Booker Prize.

Boyhood (1997) – fictional memoir

Youth (2002) – fictional memoir

The Lives of Animals (1999) – fictionalized lecture

Elizabeth Costello (2003)


Coetzee was the first writer to be awarded the Booker Prize more than once. He won it two times, first for Life & Times of Michael K in 1983, and later for Disgrace in 1999.

  1. Booker Prize (twice)
  2. The CNA Prize (thrice)
  3. The Jerusalem Prize
  4. The Prix Femina étranger
  5. The Irish Times International Fiction Prize
  6. Awarded Order of Mapungubwe by RSA government – exceptional contribution in the field of literature and for putting South Africa on the world stage.

Institutes awarding Honorary Degrees

  1. The American University of Paris
  2. The University of Adelaide
  3. La Trobe University
  4. The University of Natal
  5. The University of Oxford
  6. Rhodes University
  7. The State University of New York at Buffalo
  8. The University of Strathclyde
  9. The University of Technology, Sydney
  10. The Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań
  11. The Universidad Iberoamericana

Present Life

Coetzee relocated to Australia in 2002 where he became an Australian citizen in 2006. He lives in Adelaide where he is an honorary research fellow at the English Department of the University of Adelaide.

Coetzee is listed as Professor of Literature within English and Creative Writing at the school, and his partner Dorothy Driver as also an academic at the University of Adelaide

List of Novels by John Maxwell Coetzee

Dusklands –

In the Heart of the Country (1977) 

Waiting for the Barbarians (1980) 

Life & Times of Michael K (1983) 

Foe (1986) 

Age of Iron (1990) 

The Master of Petersburg (1994)

Disgrace (1999) ISBN 

Elizabeth Costello (2003) 

Slow Man (2005) 

Diary of a Bad Year (2007)

The Childhood of Jesus (2013) 

The Schooldays of Jesus (2016) 

The Death of Jesus (2019) 

Autobiographical novels

Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life (1997) 

Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II (2002) 

Summertime (2009) 

Scenes from Provincial Life (2011) 

An edited single volume of Boyhood

Scenes from Provincial Life, Youth

Scenes from Provincial Life II

and Summertime.

Short fiction

The Lives of Animals (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999) 

Three Stories (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2014) 

Siete cuentos morales (Barcelona: El Hilo de Ariadna/Literatura Random House, 2018)

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