Fri, Oct 03, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Coetzee from South African wins Nobel Prize for literature


South African writer J.M. Coetzee, whose stories set against the backdrop of apartheid tell of innocents and outcasts dwarfed by history, won the 2003 Nobel Prize for literature, the Swedish Academy said yesterday.

The 63-year-old writer, long a favored contender, was tapped for the prestigious award for his ability to write fiction that "in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider."

In its citation, the academy said Coetzee's novels are "characterized by their well-crafted composition, pregnant dialogue and analytical brilliance."

The writer, whose full name is John Maxwell Coetzee, is known for Dusklands and Disgrace, which won the 1999 Booker Prize, the second time he took home that award, as well as 1990's Age of Iron and 1994's The Master of Petersburg.

Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the academy said the decision was an easy one.

"We were very much convinced of the lasting value of his contribution to literature. I'm not speaking of the number of books, but the variety, and the very high average quality," he said. "I think he is a writer ... that will continue to be discussed and analyzed and we think he should belong to our literary heritage."

The prize includes a check for more than 10 million kronor, or US$1.3 million -- but it can also bestow the added advantage of increased sales, celebrity and admiration.

It was the second time since 1991 the academy gave the award to a South African, when it tapped Nadine Gordimer.

Coetzee is renowned for shunning publicity, and never bothered to collect the two Booker Prizes he won in 1983 and 1999.

Currently in Chicago on sabbatical from the University of Adelaide in Australia, Coetzee spent time working as a computer programmer in Britain before studying linguistics in Texas.

The 18 lifetime members of the 217-year-old Swedish Academy make the annual selection in deep secrecy at one of their weekly meetings and do not even reveal the date of the announcement until two days beforehand.

Nominees are not revealed publicly for 50 years, leaving the literary world to only guess about who was in the running. However, many of the same critically acclaimed authors are believed to be on the short list every year.

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