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Summer School 2021

Literary creativity in J.M. Coetzee’s South African writing

Professor David Attwell, Professor of English, University of York and University of the Western Cape

The South African Museum of Literature’s database shows that of the ten most written about novels in South Africa’s literature, five are by J.M. Coetzee. Like it or loathe it, his writing is to South Africa what Joyce’s is to Ireland. Coetzee has become an institution, the subject of much critical scholarship and controversy. This course seeks to move the debate into a different space, in which his work becomes an occasion for reflection on literary creativity. It explores the genesis and development of five novels from Coetzee’s early-to-middle phase, paying attention to the ways in which Coetzee transforms his raw material by rewriting his literary forebears, attending to ‘countervoices’, and by scrupulous dedication to the process of invention.

Participants will be encouraged to participate in the genre of writing back to Coetzee by developing a creative response to any work, or to the oeuvre or ‘institution’, in the form of fiction, essay, poetry, autobiography.


1. Refusing Empire: Waiting for the Barbarians

2. Relearning the love of land: Life & Times of Michael K

3. Storytelling after the novel of all novels: Foe

4. Mother country: Age of Iron

5. Untransformed and unconsoled: Disgrace

This course will be offered on the Microsoft Teams platform. Participants will be sent a link.


Recommended reading

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

Coetzee, J.M. 1980. Waiting for the Barbarians. London: Penguin Books.

Coetzee, J.M. 1983. Life & Times of Michael K. London: Penguin Books.

Coetzee, J.M .1986. Foe. Johannesburg: Ravan Press.

Coetzee, J.M. 1990. Age of Iron. New York: Random House.

Coetzee, J.M 2010. Disgrace. New York: Vintage Publications.

(The lectures will include discussion of the fictionalised autobiographies, dialogues with other writers, Elizabeth Costello and the Jesus trilogy.)


Date: 25–29 January
Time: 5.00 pm