News | March 21, 2013

Coetzee Archive Opens at the Ransom Center

AUSTIN, Texas — The archive of Nobel Prize-winning writer and University of Texas at Austin alumnus J.M. Coetzee is available for research at the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin. The bulk of the archive traces the author’s life and career from 1960 through 2012.

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.

“It is a privilege to have graduated from being a teaching assistant at The University of Texas to being one of the authors whose papers are conserved here,” said Coetzee.

“I write these words from my home on the south coast of the Australian mainland, an area prone to destructive bushfires. It is a secondary source of satisfaction to me that, even if this house itself goes up in flames, the work of my hands will have been whisked away to a place of safety in the vaults of the Ransom Center.”

Coetzee is an acclaimed novelist, literary critic and academic. Influenced by his personal history growing up in South Africa, he writes with strong anti-imperialist sentiments. He has published 13 books, including “Life & Times of Michael K” in 1983 and “Disgrace” in 1999. Both novels received the Man Booker Prize, 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. Coetzee received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

The archive fills 140 document boxes, 13 oversize boxes and one galley file, documenting all of Coetzee’s major writings and including notes, typescripts, background research materials and publicity materials. Professional correspondence and materials documenting personal and family history are also part of the papers.

“J.M. Coetzee is one of the world’s most admired authors,” said scholar David Atwell. “Scholarship on his fiction is flourishing. However, he is also an enigmatic writer—emotionally compelling but guarded. With the opening of the Coetzee papers, researchers will be able to study his creative processes at source. In making this possible, the Ransom Center has created an exciting prospect for contemporary literary studies.”

Included in the archive 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 the revised edition of “Scenes from Provincial Life” (2011).

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 among author, agent and publisher.

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 Coetzee’s parents and grandparents, as well as later photos of his home life and children.

Digital materials, including email and more than 100 disks, are currently not yet available to researchers.

“J. M. Coetzee is one of the university's most distinguished alumni,” said Bill Powers, president of The University of Texas at Austin. “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 Coetzee archive also complements the Center’s already rich holdings in Anglophone African writers of the 20th century.