Ceridwen Dovey is a South African born novelist who now lives in New York. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Harvard in 2003, Dovey returned to South Africa to write a novel. Blood Kin, the result of that work, was published in 2007 to critical acclaim: the novel was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Informed by Dovey's South African roots, the novel tells the story of a fictional military coup from the perspective of the overthrown leader's portraitist, chef, and barber. Dovey is currently completing a PhD in Anthropology at New York University. Dovey doesn't see a conflict between her two passions. "Both anthropology and good fiction are full of thick description and a layering of detail," she says.
Question: As a South African, what do you make of American race relations?
Dovey: That’s such a tricky one because I do feel as a White South African no matter what my political beliefs, I need to be very careful to, you know, throw any stones. Because I certainly lived in a glass house for . . . for a while. So I mean it’s been interesting to me to . . . You know obviously there’s a lot of hypocrisy involved, and a lot of kind of blame game that’s played. But I think to me it’s a more interesting thing in America of imagining . . . America likes to think of itself as being a classless society, and I think you know race and class really intersect in America. And so I think it’s less about race that I think the problem is, but more about an elite class in America who have been . . . whose needs have been privileged for too long. And that has sort of led the country into, you know, a difficult . . . difficult times.
But I did notice at . . . As an undergraduate I was a member of the African Students Association, and there was a very strange relationship between the African-American Student Associations and the African Student Associations. And this strange kind of . . . I think each was threatened by the other. I think the African-Americans feel threatened by this questioning of their own authenticity by the African Students Association; and you know sort of vice versa. So it was just an interesting sort of dynamic that I saw played out firsthand.
Recorded on: 12/6/07