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Stanford Report, October 8, 2003

Nobel laureate Coetzee returning to campus to teach writing

John M. Coetzee, who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in literature last week, is set to return to Stanford this spring to teach creative writing as the Isaac and Madeline Stein Visiting Writer.

The 63-year-old South African author also is scheduled to read from his work at 8 p.m. April 14 in Campbell Recital Hall.

Coetzee (pronounced kut-SEE-uh) last came to campus in the spring of 2002 as a visiting professor of English. He currently is teaching at the University of Chicago, where he holds the title of Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought.

"Coetzee, like Tacitus, Swift and Samuel Beckett, is a great writer who can face and make you see the full frailty, species-inflicted suffering, cruelty, absurdity and pretentiousness of human beings -- the crazy pageant, public and private, of their destructive desires -- but, like them also, in imagining the moral perversity of human life, can perversely make you thrill to the power of language, life and the imagination," said Robert Polhemus, the Joseph S. Atha Professor in Humanities and chair of the English Department.

The 18-member Swedish Academy, which announced the award Thursday, said, "A fundamental theme in Coetzee's novels involves the values and conduct resulting from South Africa's apartheid system, which, in his view, could arise anywhere."

It also praised him for "intellectual honesty [that] erodes all basis of consolation and distances itself from the tawdry drama of remorse and confession."

A literary scholar, essayist and novelist, Coetzee earned bachelor's degrees in English and mathematics in 1960 and 1961, respectively, from the University of Cape Town, where he went on to earn a master's degree in English in 1963. He completed his doctorate in English at the University of Texas-Austin in 1969. He is the first author to win Britain's most prestigious honor for fiction, the Booker Prize, twice: in 1983 for The Life and Times of Michael K, and in 1999 for Disgrace. In addition to more than a half-dozen novels, he is the author of two autobiographical works -- Boyhood (1997) and Youth (2002) -- and several collections of essays and literary criticism.

Coetzee's forthcoming novel, Elizabeth Costello, is scheduled to be published later this month by Viking Press.

His book of Dutch poetry translations, Landscape with Rowers, is due out in February from Princeton University Press' "Facing Pages" series, which is edited by Nicholas Jenkins, a Stanford assistant professor of English.


J. M. Coetzee