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The computer poetry of J. M. Coetzee’s early programming career

By Rebecca Roach

Writer J. M. Coetzee’s early poetry is almost undecipherable. That’s because it was written in computer code.

Coetzee’s global reputation rests on his literary output, for which he received a Nobel Prize in 2003. Before he embarked on a career as a scholar and writer, the South African–born writer was a computer programmer in the early years of the industry’s development (1962–1965). I believe that this experience, while short, was vital for the development of Coetzee’s writerly project. While visiting the Ransom Center on a research fellowship, I examined Coetzee’s papers, which offer tantalizing clues about his neglected “other career.” Read more