New honour for Nobel laureate

Dr Coetzee receives his award from UTS Chancellor Professor Vicki Sara

Dr Coetzee receives his award from UTS Chancellor Professor Vicki Sara

Nobel prize-winning author JM Coetzee has traversed the worlds of technology and literature in his career, fitting reason for him to be awarded a Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) this week by the University of Technology, Sydney.

Dr Coetzee attended the first Sydney graduation ceremony for the newly-constituted UTS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences on Monday 29 September to receive the honour and deliver an occasional address to graduates in communications, education and international studies.

UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Ross Milbourne said the award had been made in recognition of Dr Coetzee's "outstanding contribution to society through literature."

The award cements a relationship forged when Dr Coetzee accepted an invitation from UTS last year to participate in the distinguished public lecture series held as part of the exhibition on the history of the Nobel Prizes, Beautiful Minds.

Dr Coetzee, who first worked as a statistician and computer programmer, spoke to the graduates about the importance of connections between the worlds of science and the arts.

He noted that the scientific maxim that "all knowledge is good" was lately viewed with more suspicion as the world faced up to the prospect of human-generated climate change, among other challenges.

There was a need, he said, for Western science to not only to consider ethics, but to take in the wider historical and cultural aspects of the pursuit of knowledge.

Dr Coetzee returned to UTS yesterday (30 September) for a special breakfast at the UTS Gallery with alumni and friends of the university, at which he read from his latest novel Diary of a Bad Year.

Following is the complete citation for Dr Coetzee's award.

John Maxwell Coetzee
Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

This award is made to John Maxwell Coetzee in recognition of his outstanding contribution to society through literature.

John Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa on 9 February 1940. His early education was at St Joseph’s College in Cape Town. He later studied at the University of Cape Town, which in 1960 awarded him an Honours degree in English and in the following year an Honours degree in Mathematics.

He relocated to London where he worked as a computer programmer and wrote his Masters degree thesis on the novelist Ford Madox Ford. He moved to the United States and received his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 1968. His doctoral dissertation was on the works of Samuel Beckett.

He was assistant professor of English at the State University of New York in Buffalo for three years, then returned to the University of Cape Town in 1972, where he remained until 2000, his last position being Distinguished Professor of Literature. From 1984 he also held visiting positions in the United States, at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and Stanford University. He was the Distinguished Service Professor of Social Thought at the University of Chicago.

John Coetzee published his first novel Dusklands, in 1974. It was followed by In the Heart of the Country (1977), which was awarded South Africa’s CNA Prize; and Waiting for the Barbarians (1980). He received his first Booker Prize in 1983, for Life and Times of Michael K, and his second in 1999 for Disgrace. In 1987 he received the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society. His subsequent novels have included Slow Man (2005) and Diary of a Bad Year (2007). He has also published essays and translations, and two fictionalised memoirs: Boyhood (1997) and Youth (2002).

In 2003 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the Presentation Speech the Swedish Academy lauded John Coetzee's defence of "the ethical value of poetry, literature and imagination", saying also that:

"You are a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on your own, starting with the basic words for our deepest concerns. Unsettling and surprising us, you have dug deeply into the ground of the human condition with its cruelty and loneliness. You have given a voice to those outside the hierarchies of the mighty."

Since 2002, John Coetzee and his partner Dorothy Driver have lived in Adelaide, where John is Visiting Professor of Humanities at the University of Adelaide. In March 2006 he became an Australian citizen.

In 2007, he graciously accepted this University’s invitation to participate in the Distinguished Public Lecture series as part of the Nobel Exhibition – Beautiful Minds.

It is a great honour for the University of Technology, Sydney to award John Maxwell Coetzee the degree Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) in recognition of his outstanding contribution to literature.