Two-time Booker Prize winner John Michael Coetzee wrote his first novel, “Dusklands,” in 1974, after reading a remote ancestor’s account of explorations of southwest Africa by European colonialists.
“It was a deposition that he made to the government of the Cape of Good Hope in 1760 or ’61,” Coetzee said. “I used a lot of material from the account in the novel itself.”
Since then, Coetzee has become one of the leading South African authors and a strong opponent of what white colonialists he had read about tried to promote — apartheid.
Coetzee won the 1999 Booker Prize on Oct. 25 for his latest book, “Disgrace.” His “Life and Times of Michael K.” had already earned him the prize in 1983; Coetzee is the first author to win the Booker Prize twice.
“I’m delighted (to have won the award),” Coetzee said. “I think, at least within the English-speaking countries, it is the major prize.”
The Booker Prize rewards the best fiction writer from the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth.
Coetzee’s work deals with the nature of oppression, particularly its effect on blacks and women. His interest lies primarily in the universality of oppression, although many of his novels deal with South Africa.
“I think he really attempted to make (his second novel, “Waiting for the Barbarians”) as generic as possible,” said physics junior Max Seeley.
While Julie Schumacher, a University associate professor in English, compares him to Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize laureate, JosÇ Saramago, his novels have often drawn comparisons to Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka.
“Coetzee is enormously wide-ranging in terms of what he writes,” Schumacher said. “(His works are) the best mix of the intellectual and the poetic.”
Other distinguished winners of the 31-year-old Booker Prize are Salman Rushdie and Nobel Prize laureates Nadine Gordimer and William Golding.
Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1940 and grew up on an isolated farm in the semi-desert of Karroo. He attended the University of Cape Town, completing his master’s degree in 1963 and a doctorate from the University of Texas in 1969.
Coetzee’s first novel was followed by the publication of several scholarly essays, but not until his second novel, “In the Heart of the Country,” did Coetzee clearly establish his reputation as a writer. This novel and his next both won the Central News Agency award, the top South African literary award, in 1980 and 1982.