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Archive for Friday, October 3, 2003

South African novelist receives 2003 Nobel Prize for literature

October 3, 2003

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— South Africa's J.M. Coetzee, whose stories tell of innocents and outcasts oppressed by the cruel weight of history, won the 2003 Nobel Prize for literature Thursday.

The 63-year-old writer, long a favorite for the book world's most prestigious prize, was cited as a "scrupulous doubter, ruthless in his criticism of the cruel rationalism and cosmetic morality of Western civilization."

The Swedish Academy said Coetzee's novels, which include "Disgrace," "Waiting for the Barbarians" and "Age of Iron," were also characterized by their "well-crafted composition, pregnant dialogue and analytical brilliance."

Coetzee, a visiting professor at the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought, said the award "came as a complete surprise -- I was not even aware that the announcement was pending." He noted that a previous Nobel laureate, Saul Bellow, had also been a committee faculty member.

The prize includes a check for more than 10 million kronor, or $1.3 million, but it can also bestow the added advantage of stronger sales. His U.S. publisher, Viking Penguin, expects a big increase over the planned first printing of 33,000 for his new novel, "Elizabeth Costello," which comes out Oct. 16.

"He's a colleague and a friend, and it's also a wonderful thing that the Nobel Prize has come to South Africa again," said fellow South African writer Nadine Gordimer, who won the Nobel in 1991 not long before the fall of apartheid, the brutal system of racial segregation.

Like Gordimer, Coetzee is a white writer from their predominantly black country.

The academy has given the award to Europeans for the past eight years. Since 1980, three winners have come from sub-Saharan Africa, three from South America, two from the United States and one from Asia.

South Africa's ruling African National Congress, which led the fight to bring down apartheid, issued a statement Thursday praising the Nobel selection.

"The ANC hopes the recognition given to South African authors like Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer ... will serve as an inspiration to young writers in this country and on the African continent," the ANC said.

"We also hope that it will encourage publishers and readers to realize the continent's vast untapped literary potential."

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