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JM Coetzee was the second South African writer to win a Nobel Prize for Literature; the other was Nadine Gordimer.
Regarded as one of the most important writers of modern times, John Maxwell Coetzee is a Nobel laureate, twice Booker Prize winner, and a son of South Africa.
Even though Coetzee is now an Australian citizen, and calls the city of Adelaide home, he is very clear where his heart lies. 'I did not so much leave South Africa, a country with which I retain strong emotional ties, but come to Australia,' he said upon becoming an Australian citizen.
Along with the likes of Alan Paton, Athol Fugard, Nadine Gordimer and Dennis Brutus, who all used their writing to lay bare the horrors of apartheid, his works are regarded as some of the most influential to come out of South Africa during this period.
In 2003 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and was described by the Swedish Academy as someone 'who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider'.
In 2005, Coetzee was awarded the Order of Mapungubwe, gold class, the highest honour the South African president can confer. He received the award for his “exceptional contribution in the field of literature and for putting South Africa on the world map”.
Coetzee spent his formative years in the Boland town of Worcester where the family moved after his father, Zacharias Coetzee, was fired from his government job, for disagreeing with the state’s apartheid policies (this period is described in his autobiographical work, called Boyhood).
His remarkable intellect was confirmed when he graduated, with honours, in both English and Mathematics from the University of Cape Town, going on to receive a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Texas in Austin.
He moved to the UK after graduating and from 1962 to 1965 he worked as a computer programmer for IBM, and later moved to the United States. He returned home in 1971, after the US refused to give him permanent residency because of his involvement in anti-Vietnam War protests.
Before relocating to Australia Coetzee taught English literature at UCT, and retired as Distinguished Professor of Literature in 2002.
It was Coetzee’s thought-provoking books Life & Times of Michael K and Disgrace that led him to win the Booker Prize in 1983 and 1999 respectively.