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University of Texas at Austin

J. M. Coetzee:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Coetzee, J. M., 1940-
Title: J. M. Coetzee Papers
Dates: 1864-2012 (bulk 1960-2012)
Extent: 140 document boxes (58.33 linear feet), 13 oversize boxes (osb), 1 galley file (gf), 131 computer disks
Abstract: The papers document all of Coetzee's major writings and include notes, typescripts, background research materials and publicity. Correspondence and materials documenting personal and family history are also present.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-00842
Language: English, Afrikaans, Dutch, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Access: Open for research. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Certain restrictions apply to the use of electronic files. Researchers must agree to the Materials Use Policy for Electronic Files before accessing them. Original computer disks and forensic disk images are restricted. Copying electronic files, including screenshots and printouts, is not permitted. To request access to electronic files, please email Reference. Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Centers' Open Access and Use Policies.

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gift and Purchases, 1995-2012 (G10442, 11-06-014P, 11-09-014P, 12-09-005P)
Processed by: Micah Erwin and Steve Mielke, 2013; Grace Hansen, 2017

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

John Maxwell Coetzee was born on February 9, 1940, in the suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa. His father, Zacharias Coetzee, was an attorney and served in World War II as a noncommissioned officer, in the South African 6th Armoured Division. His mother, Vera Wehmeyer Coetzee, was a school teacher. Coetzee lived in numerous small towns in rural Cape Province but spent most of his early life, and received his early schooling, in Cape Town. Both of his parents dissociated themselves from the apartheid policies of the Afrikaner nationalist movement that came to power in 1948, resulting in his father's loss of a government job and the family's move to Worcester when Coetzee was eight. He also spent many childhood holidays at his uncle's farm in the Karoo, a semi-desert region of South Africa. Although most of his relatives spoke Afrikaans, Coetzee was exposed to English in the various schools he attended and was accustomed to speaking English in the home.
Coetzee later attended St. Joseph's College in Cape Town, a Roman Catholic boys' school. He entered the University of Cape Town in 1957, where he studied mathematics and English. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree with Honors in both English and Mathematics in 1960 and 1961 respectively. In 1962, Coetzee relocated to London, England, where he worked as an applications programmer for International Business Machines (IBM) from 1962 to 1963, and with International Computers in Bracknell, England, as systems programmer from 1964 to 1965. While working in England, he was awarded his master's degree in English from the University of Cape Town for the successful completion of his thesis "The Works of Ford Madox Ford with Particular Reference to the Novels." In 1963, he married Philippa Jubber (1939-1991).
Although Coetzee was able to write poetry and study literature in his spare time, he grew dissatisfied with computer programming and decided to complete his graduate studies. In 1965, he travelled to Austin, Texas, on the Fulbright exchange program to study linguistics at The University of Texas. His son Nicolas was born in 1966. Having completed his dissertation on the stylistic analysis of the English fiction of Samuel Beckett, Coetzee left Texas in 1968. He received his Ph.D. in 1969.
In 1968, Coetzee began his career as a professor at The University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, where he taught English literature. His daughter Gisela was born in 1968. While at Buffalo, Coetzee witnessed many student protests over issues such as racial bias, the Vietnam War, and ROTC presence on campus. In 1970, Coetzee was involved in a campus protest that ended in his arrest along with 44 other faculty members. Troubled by these events, he began writing his first major work, Dusklands, which was executed in two parts, "The Vietnam Project" and "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee," and explores issues of western imperialism, dominant regimes, and forms of repression.
In 1971, having been denied permanent residence in the United States, Coetzee returned to South Africa, where he began teaching at the University of Cape Town. Coetzee held a series of positions there from 1972 to 2002. His final position was Distinguished Professor of Literature. In 1977, Coetzee published In the Heart of the Country, which won South Africa's highest literary award, the Central News Agency Literary Award (CNA Literary Award; CNA Prize). His next work of fiction, Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), received critical acclaim and set Coetzee on the international stage. Philippa Jubber and Coetzee divorced in 1980.
In 1983, Coetzee won Britain's Man Booker Prize for Life & Times of Michael K., underscoring his earlier accomplishments and establishing his international renown. He followed this with Foe (1986), Age of Iron (1990), and The Master of Petersburg (1994). Coetzee suffered a tragedy in 1989 with the accidental death of his son Nicolas--an event that had a significant influence on his novel The Master of Petersburg. In 1999, the novel Disgrace earned Coetzee another Booker Prize, making him the first writer to win the coveted prize twice. Disgrace also won the 2000 Commonwealth Writer's Prize.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Coetzee frequently traveled to the United States for lectures, readings, and other university engagements. He was particularly involved at the University at Buffalo, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago, where he served as a member of the Committee on Social Thought.
Coetzee has written three fictionalized autobiographies: Boyhood (1997), Youth (2002), and Summertime (2009), as well as a fictionalized lecture entitled The Lives of Animals (1999), which comprises a portion of the later work Elizabeth Costello (2003). In addition to his works of fiction, Coetzee has published numerous articles and reviews. Many of his reviews have appeared in the New York Review of Books. A few of his shorter works were published as collections of essays: White Writing (1988); Doubling the Point (David Attwell, ed. 1992); Giving Offense (1996); Stranger Shores (2001). He has also translated a number of Dutch and Afrikaans works.
In 2002 Coetzee emigrated from South Africa to Australia, where he took the position of honorary research fellow in the English Department of the University of Adelaide. His partner, Dorothy Driver, is a fellow academic who holds a professorship in the English Department at Adelaide. In 2003 the Swedish Academy announced that Coetzee was the year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, stating that "in innumerable guises [he] portrays the surprise involvement of the outsider." As of 2013, Coetzee has published two more novels: Slow Man (2005) and Diary of a Bad Year (2007); a collection of essays: Inner Workings (2007); Scenes from Provincial Life (2011), which brings together in a single volume his three previously published works of autobiographical fiction; and numerous shorter works. He is widely considered South Africa's most accomplished contemporary novelist and has received numerous honorary degrees. Coetzee became an Australian citizen in 2006.


"Coetzee wins Nobel literature prize." BBC News. (accessed 31 January 2013).
Head, Dominic. The Cambridge Introduction to J. M. Coetzee. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
"J. M. Coetzee-Biography." (accessed 31 January 2013).
"J. M. Coetzee." Contemporary Authors Online. (accessed 31 January 2013).
Marais, Michael. "J. M. Coetzee." Dictionary of Literary Biography Online. (accessed 31 January 2013).

Scope and Contents

Handwritten, typed, and printout drafts (bulk printouts), galley proofs, screenplays, correspondence, research materials and notes, legal, business, and financial records (some restricted), photographs, photo albums, audio and video recordings, awards, medals, books, notebooks, scrapbooks, magazines and other periodicals, clippings, electronic records, drawings, maps, and posters document the life, work, and family of J. M. Coetzee from the mid-1800s to 2012. The six series represent an intellectual rather than physical arrangement and are ordered by size and/or importance: I. Writings, 1960s-2012; II. Business Correspondence, 1969-2006; III. Research Materials, circa 1960s-2009; IV. Personal and Career-Related, 1864-2010; V. Serial Publications, 1955-2012; VI. Publicity, 1974-2012. Most of the papers are in English, with a small number of materials in Dutch, Afrikaans, French, German, Spanish, Swedish, and Portuguese.
Series I. is divided into two subseries: Long Works and Short Works. The series makes up over a third of the collection and contains thorough records of Coetzee's literary activities, including such early materials as handwritten notes for Dusklands (1974), jotted down in the late 1960s, and an oversized "computer poetry" printout produced during his time with International Computers in England (as described in Youth).
Subseries A. Long Works includes heavily revised handwritten, typed, and printout drafts for all of Coetzee's major novels and essay collections, including: Fiction: Dusklands (1974), 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), The Lives of Animals (1999), Disgrace (1999), Elizabeth Costello (2003), Slow Man (2005), Diary of a Bad Year (2007); Fictionalized autobiography: Boyhood (1997), Youth (2002), Summertime (2009), Scenes from Provincial Life (2011); Essay collections: White Writing (1988), Doubling the Point (1992), Giving Offense (1996), Stranger Shores (2002), Inner Workings (2007); and Translation: A Posthumous Confession (1976), The Expedition to the Baobab Tree (1983), and Landscape with Rowers (2004). This subseries also includes an unfinished handwritten draft of an unrealized work, Burning the Books. Many of his early drafts were written out on examination booklets and bound in cardboard covers. These manuscripts have since been disbound and rehoused. Page proofs are often present, and one set of galleys for Life & Times of Michael K. (1983) is housed with the Center's galley files. Screenplays and other media adaptations are also found in this subseries along with research materials and press reviews, although to a lesser extent.
Subseries B. Short Works includes typescripts of the majority of his short works. A grouping of typescripts and research materials from his earlier short works (1969 to 1998) arrived arranged in chronological order. Another group of drafts, printouts, and page proofs from his publications in the New York Review of Books arrived arranged by the name of the author whose work he reviewed. Most of these drafts can be found in their published form in Series V. Serial Publications (oversize boxes 149-151) or can be accessed via the New York Review of Books online archive. These arrangements were preserved while other materials were consciously re-organized. Printouts for various public readings and addresses are also present along with drafts for the publication of his Bennington College lecture What is Realism? (1996). A complete index of short works, arranged alphabetically, is provided at the end of the finding aid.
Series II. Business Correspondence, 1969-2006, is the second largest series and contains incoming and, to a lesser extent, outgoing letters between Coetzee and editors, publishers, politicians, activists, scholars, business associates, and numerous other individuals and institutions, documenting Coetzee's business dealings as well as his impact on South African and international literature and culture. Included are letters from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Derek Attridge, David Attwell, Breyten Breytenbach, Committee on Social Thought, Dorothy Driver, Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev, Nadine Gordimer, Norman Mailer, Maurice Nadeau, Jaroslav Pelikan, Swedish Academy, and numerous other individuals and organizations. Coetzee's dealings with his publishers are particularly well represented. An alphabetical index of circa 800 individual and corporate correspondents at the end of the finding aid collates business correspondence. Email correspondents are not represented in this index.
Coetzee's research agenda and the background materials for his writings are represented in Series III. Research Materials, circa 1960s-2009, which is the smallest series in the collection. The bulk of the materials comprises photocopied articles and book chapters which Coetzee arranged alphabetically by author. Authors include A. S. Byatt, Michael G. Levine, Jacques Derrida, Philip G. Altbach, Charles Bloomberg, and many more. The dates listed in the container list for these photocopies represent the publication dates of the original materials, not the date the copies were created.
In addition to the photocopies, Series III. contains a small volume of original research materials, including 19th- and early 20th-century publications on "Central Asia" and "The Hottentots." A large number of clippings from the Times Literary Supplement, which Coetzee gathered into six scrapbooks, give witness to his research activities in the 1960s and 1970s.
Series IV. Personal and Career-Related, 1864-2010, documents Coetzee's family origins and his early years through to his later career as a successful author and Nobel laureate. Many items provide physical evidence of scenes described in his fictionalized autobiography. Included are materials from Zacharias Coetzee's military service in World War II, and Vera Wehmeyer Coetzee's estate documents and correspondence. A sketchbook containing Coetzee's juvenile drawings is reminiscent of those described in Boyhood.
Over 1600 photographs document the life of Coetzee, his family, ancestors, and friends (1800s-circa 2007), and constitute the bulk of the series. Notes, examinations, correspondence, and newspaper clippings provide evidence of his activities as a student and/or professor at The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Cape Town, and the University at Buffalo. The series also includes drafts and published articles about Coetzee and many of his awards, medals, diplomas, and honorary doctorates, including his 2003 Nobel Prize diploma.
Series V. Serial Publications, 1955-2012, includes an international array of nearly 150 journals, magazines, and other periodicals with pieces by (or interviews of) Coetzee. These are arranged alphabetically by serial title. An index of these volumes is included at the end of the finding aid. The index is arranged alphabetically and provides a complete citation of each article for ease of reference. A box of circa 90 photocopied articles by (or interviews of) Coetzee is provided at the end of the series. These photocopies are arranged alphabetically by title. There is significant overlap between the photocopied articles and those found in the complete issues. A large number of issues from the New York Review of Books (1986-2012) have been moved to oversize. Coetzee's articles in the New York Review of Books can be accessed through their online archive.
Series VI. Publicity, 1974-2012, contains scrapbooks of newspaper clippings arranged chronologically, loose clippings arranged chronologically, Nobel Prize clippings, along with book covers, publishers' catalogs, programs, and posters. Similar materials are located with their associated works in Series I.
Book contracts, tax documents, and other financial materials along with Coetzee's personal journals, diaries, and correspondence including email are closed until the deaths of Coetzee and Dorothy Driver.
Notes on Provenance, Arrangement, and Description
The contents of boxes 1-32 were originally on deposit at Harvard University's Houghton Library. When present, the Houghton's accession numbers are indicated at the right corner of each folder. Materials deposited at the Houghton Library in 2003 were not given accession numbers. "Harvard, 2003" is written on folders containing these items. Although an effort has been made to match the description of items from the Houghton Library's inventory to the present finding aid, the descriptions are not in perfect congruity. Original order has been preserved whenever possible.
Coetzee corrected, revised, and annotated many of his drafts by hand either in the margins or interlinearly. Many revisions and or corrections were applied several months after the drafts were completed. The qualifiers "light revisions/corrections" or "extensive revisions/corrections" are in relation to other manuscripts of the same work and are only intended as a general guide.
Electronic records containing short works are divided between Series I. Works Subseries A. Long Works and Subseries B. Short Works based on what the Ransom Center can infer about the author’s intention. Electronic records that were clearly grouped by the author in preparation for a published anthology, deduced from a disk label or the presence of a table of contents, are arranged under Subseries A. Long Works. Single drafts of short works that are not clearly grouped by anthology are described in Subseries B. Short Works.
The collection also includes a 9-track computer reel labeled ‘Foe’, dated June 11, 1985 but it is currently inaccessible.

Related Material

For additional Coetzee correspondence and related materials at the Ransom Center, see manuscript holdings for Research in African Literatures, Norman Mailer, Alfred A. Knopf, Nadine Gordimer, Robert Guy Howarth, and Mel Gussow.
In 2012, the Ransom Center acquired two document boxes comprising proofs, drafts, and editorial correspondence between J. M. Coetzee and his British and American publisher. This acquisition comprises a separate collection called the "Coetzee, J. M. Collection."
Materials relating to a French theatrical performance of In the Heart of the Country (Au coeur du pays) are held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Separated Material

391 books (1977-2010) arrived at the Ransom Center with the Coetzee Papers. The bulk consists of 355 autographed foreign language editions. The remainder consists of periodicals containing Coetzee's work. The volumes were transferred to the Center's Book Collection.
15 VHS recordings of award ceremonies, symposia, and interviews, including tapes labeled "The Nobel Prize Ceremony" and "University of Texas Distinguished Alumnus Awards," were transferred to the Center's Moving Image Collection.
7 audio cassette tapes were transferred to the Center's Sound Recording Collection. Included are a recording of Coetzee reading Age of Iron, a Canadian Broadcasting Association radio interview, and other radio talks. A vinyl record entitled "Hayes Hall Blues," which was produced in support of demonstrations held at the University at Buffalo on March 16, 1970, was also transferred.
Several awards, medals, and medallions, including the Irish Times International Literature Prize and the CNA Literary Award, were transferred to the Center's Personal Effects Collection.

Index Terms


Alberty, Robert A.
Attridge, Derek.
Attwell, David.
Bergsma, Peter, 1952- .
Breytenbach, Breyten
Brink, André.
Brodhead, Richard H., 1947- .
Driver, Dorothy.
Fujiwara, Akio.
Gorbachev, Mikhail Sergeevich.
Gordimer, Nadine.
Irwin, John T.
Kellman, Steven G., 1947- .
Mailer, Norman.
Mitchell, Breon.
Moses, Michael Valdez, 1957- .
Pelikan, Jaroslav, 1923-2006.
Rosenthal, Tom G.
Staley, Thomas F.
Zinman, M. Richard.


The African Arts Fund, Inc. (New York, N.Y.).
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
American Biographical Institute, Inc.
Animals Australia.
British Broadcasting Corporation.
Caine Prize for African Writing.
Committee on Social Thought.
The Commonwealth Writers Prize.
English Academy of Southern Africa.
English Centre of International PEN.
Humane Society of the United States.
International Writers Center.
Man Booker Prize.
Modern Language Association of America.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Press Intermezzo.
Ravan press.
Research in African Literatures.
South African High Commission.
St. Martin's Press.
Swedish Academy.
Who's Who in the World.
World Literature Today.


Africa, Southern--Race relations.
Afrikaans literature--history and criticism.
Animal rights.
Animal rights activists.
Apartheid--South Africa.
Cricket--South Africa.
Literature--History and criticism.
Literature, Modern--20th century.
Literature and society.
Nobel Prize.
Postcolonialism in literature.
South African Literature.
Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements.
World War, 1939-1945.


Austin (Tex.).
Buffalo (N.Y.).
Cape Town, South Africa.

Document Types

Electronic records.
Theatrical stills.
Galley proofs.
Legal documents.
Page proofs.
Printed ephemera.
Sound recordings.
Video recordings.

Container List