“Reading Coetzee’s Women” conference an outstanding success

There has been enormous international scholarly interest in J.M Coetzee’s writings in recent years. Since 2009, five major international conferences have been held and two literary biographies, 10 monographs and over 300 articles have been published about his work. Despite this, very little has been written about his female narrators and characters or about the women writers who have influenced him.

In “Reading Coetzee’s Women”, a three-day conference held at Monash’s Prato Centre, preeminent and emerging scholars were asked to bring their attention to the topic of ‘Coetzee’s women’ as well as possible reasons for the lack of engagement with this theme.

During the conference, Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee read from his newly-published novel, The Schooldays of Jesus, which was long-listed for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. The reading was introduced by the University of York’s Professor Derek Attridge and a formal welcome was given by Ms Isabella Swift, Second Secretary at the Australian Embassy in Rome.

L-R: Dr Melinda Harvey (Monash), Prof JM Coetzee, Ms Isabella Swift (Australian Embassy in Rome) and Prof Sue Kossew (Monash). Photo taken by Prof Bill Shengqin Cai, Zhongna University of Economics and Law (ZUEL), China
L-R: Dr Melinda Harvey (Monash), Prof JM Coetzee, Ms Isabella Swift (Australian Embassy in Rome) and Prof Sue Kossew (Monash). Photo taken by Prof Bill Shengqin Cai, Zhongna University of Economics and Law (ZUEL), China

Four keynote addresses were given by internationally-regarded Coetzee scholars. Professor Carrol Clarkson (University of Amsterdam) discussed the concept of “woman-izing” as a narrative device rather than a theme in Coetzee’s work; Professor David Attwell (University of York) offered a new reading of the ‘barbarian girl’ based on the novel Waiting for the Barbarians; Professor Derek Attridge (University of York) explored the limits of the sympathetic imagination in the work of male writers who think their way into female characters; and Professor Elleke Boehmer (University of Oxford) considered the creative encounters between male and female characters in Coetzee’s works as forms of visitation, especially in terms of inspiration by muses and angels.

In addition, Professor Gail Jones, one of Australia’s leading novelists, presented a paper on the trope of female authorship in Coetzee’s work.

95 attendees from 23 different countries attended, including from China, Turkey, Britain, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Poland, Cyprus, Canada, Belgium, Thailand, Spain, Macedonia, Portugal, Germany, Hong Kong, South Africa, India, and Sweden.

The conference was a fantastic opportunity to explore a rich but under-discussed area of Coetzee studies. Professor Sue Kossew says the sheer number of fascinating papers submitted demonstrated the importance of this area of study, and were part of what made the conference such a triumph.

“The “Reading Coetzee’s Women” conference was an outstanding success.”

The success of the conference inspired a number of the international participants to propose new collaborations with Monash University through the Prato Centre.

The conference was convened by Professor Sue Kossew and Dr Melinda Harvey (from Literary Studies in the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics) with significant support from Professor Rae Frances (Dean of Faculty of Arts) and Professor Jakob Hohwy, (Associate Dean Research, Faculty of Arts). Melbourne graphic designer Rosetta Mills designed their promotional material.