The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, has acquired the archive of Nobel Prize-winning writer and University of Texas at Austin alumnus J. M. Coetzee. Spanning more than 50 years, the archive traces the author’s life and career from 1956 through the present.
“My association with The University of Texas goes back almost half a century,” said Coetzee. “It is very satisfying to me to know that my papers will find a home at the Ransom Center, one of the world’s great research collections.”
Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1940 and graduated from the University of Cape Town. After working three years as a computer programmer in England, he enrolled in The University of Texas at Austin in 1965 to pursue his Ph.D. in English, linguistics and Germanic languages, which he earned in 1969. While at the university, he conducted research in the Ransom Center’s collections for his dissertation on the early fiction of Samuel Beckett.
Coetzee is an acclaimed novelist, academic and literary critic. Influenced by his personal history of growing up in South Africa, he writes with strong anti-imperialist feelings. He has published 13 books, including “Life and Times of Michael K” in 1983 and “Disgrace” in 1999. Both novels received the Man Booker Prize, awarded each year for best full-length novel, making Coetzee the first author to receive the award twice. His novel, “Waiting for the Barbarians” (1980), was adapted into an opera by composer Philip Glass.
“Known for his spare, striking and powerful prose, J. M. Coetzee has left an indelible mark on our culture,” said Ransom Center Director Thomas F. Staley. “He writes brilliantly of his native home of South Africa, but the themes and conflicts he explores in his works are universal. We are delighted that his remarkable archive will be available for study at the Ransom Center.”
Approximately 155 document boxes, five filing cabinet drawers and an additional eight storage boxes of journals, manuscripts, correspondence and business documents comprise the archive.
Included are notebooks and manuscripts in various draft forms for many of Coetzee’s works of fiction and autobiography, from early works such as “In the Heart of the Country” (1977) to materials related to his forthcoming revised edition of “Scenes from Provincial Life” (2011).
Works represented in various draft forms include, but are not limited to “Waiting for the Barbarians,” “Life and Times of Michael K” and “Disgrace.”
Business correspondence includes incoming and outgoing letters spanning more than 30 years and documenting all aspects of Coetzee’s literary career. Early letters reveal efforts to find a publisher, and communications from the mid-1970s onward record relationships between author, agent and publisher.
Digital materials in the collection include five boxes of 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch disks with manuscript drafts and related material for many of his works. Audiovisual materials include videotapes of various award ceremonies, symposia and interviews, as well as cassettes of interviews and radio talks.
The collection also includes photo albums with early family photos of parents and grandparents, as well as later photos of Coetzee’s home life and children.
Coetzee taught at the Michener Center for Writers at the university in 1995, and most recently, he visited campus last year to give a lecture as part of the Graduate School’s 1910 Society Lecture Series, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the school.
“J. M. Coetzee is one of the university’s most distinguished alumni,” said University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers. “His archive will be not only a tremendous resource for scholars from around the world but an inspiration for the students of The University of Texas at Austin.”
Between 1984 and 2003, Coetzee frequently taught at American universities. He became an Australian citizen in 2006, and he resides in Adelaide, where he is a professor of literature at the University of Adelaide.
Several other Nobel laureates are represented in the Ransom Center’s collections, including Samuel Beckett, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Doris Lessing, George Bernard Shaw, Isaac Bashevis Singer, John Steinbeck and W. B. Yeats. The collection also complements the Ransom Center’s already rich holdings in Anglophone African writers of the 20th century.
The Coetzee materials will be accessible once processed and cataloged. High-resolution press images are available.