He is the only author ever to win two Booker Prizes (the highest British literary award). His eighth work, “Disgrace,” has met with as much critical success as his previous enterprises. After penning such works as “Foe” and “Life and Times of Michael K,” he was awarded a chair of literature at the University of Cape Town in his native South Africa. And now he”s coming to read at the University of Michigan this Thursday.
J.M. Coetzee, one of the biggest names in fiction to take part in the English Department”s Visiting Writers series, has spent years challenging readers and creating invigorating literature.
Coetzee was born in Cape Town in 1940. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Texas, he returned to South Africa to teach. He spent two weeks at Stanford as a distinguished visitor several years ago, and has had numerous other prizes and awards bestowed upon him, among them the Lannan Award for Fiction, the CNA Prize (South Africa”s premier award for literature), the Jerusalem Prize and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize.
Coetzee”s novels never fail to amaze. In his first work, “Dusklands,” he contrasted Americans in Vietnam, and the early Dutch settlers of South Africa. In “Waiting For the Barbarians,” Coetzee exposed the brutal human condition, again using his native land as a backdrop.
“Disgrace,” the focus of the reading, involves a professor of languages in Cape Town. In his mid-50s, Professor David Lurie sees his personal life crumble and his academic career path remain stagnant. When Lurie seduces a student, his behavior comes into the public eye. Coetzee has succeeded again in blending masterful use of language with entertaining storytelling.
The New Yorker has said, “what seems striking about it, right from the start, is its almost unnatural sense of poise…” This succinctly describes many of Coetzee”s works, which are challenging without being tedious, and hard to put down. Another trademark is the sheer bleakness of the work. Many leading critics here in the United States have come to associate Coetzee with bleak as they have linked Stephen King with horror.
In a rare, free public reading here, Coetzee is sure to be an able speaker, and the reading from his latest work should be intriguing.