Professor David Attwell, Department of English, University of York

The ‘writing event’ is the breakthrough moment when a work takes on the qualities that make it successful. This course is about the writing process in J.M. Coetzee, focusing on moments when Nobel-worthy fiction comes into view. Using material from Coetzee’s drafts and notebooks, the course will explore the making of four novels: Waiting for the Barbarians, Life &Times of Michael K, Age of Iron and Disgrace.

Each two-hour Saturday lecture will pause at those moments when the work achieves depth and definition: an intellectual working on a translation of an eighteenth-century German novel becomes the gardener Michael K; a story about a history teacher working on Robben Island becomes the confessions of the magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians; the author’s anguished letters to a dead mother become the story of a classics professor thrown into the world of Cape Town’s shack settlements in mid-winter; philosophical lectures about animal life migrate into fiction and become key to Disgrace.

The course will focus on the early and middle periods (the ‘Cape Town’ phases) of Coetzee’s career, which reaches a high point in Disgrace. It will explore two novels in each two-hour session.



1.         Waiting for the Barbarians and Life & Times of Michael K  (Saturday 5 August, 1.00–3.00pm)

2.         Age of Iron and Disgrace (Saturday 12 August, 1.00–3.00pm)


Recommended reading

Attwell, D. 2015. J.M.Coetzee and the Life of Writing: Face to Face with Time. Johannesburg: Jacana.

Coetzee, J.M. 1980.Waiting for the Barbarians. Johannesburg: Ravan Press.

Coetzee, J.M. 1983. Life & Times of Michael K. Johannesburg: Ravan Press.

Coetzee, J.M. 1990. Age of Iron. London: Secker & Warburg.

Coetzee, J.M. 1999. Disgrace. London: Secker & Warburg.


Date: Saturday 5 August and Saturday 12 August 
Time: 1.003.00 pm
COURSE FEES  Full: R385,00  Staff: R193,00  Reduced: R95,00