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: Do you have a personal philosophy?
Dovey: Yeah. I was actually born and raised agnostic, which I am quite proud of because we lived in a very conservative Christian community in South Africa. And so you know everyone thought that it was totally weird that we were agnostic. But I’ve always found that kind of interesting. I think it’s a tradition that’s as rich as any religious tradition. And certainly for my family we have rituals and events that are about being agnostic that, you know . . . they’re not about worshiping a text, or a god, or a prophet; but they’re actually just about being together and sort of in the moment. And so I think at the core of this sort of . . . You could call it a faith or a belief, is a sense of humility that, you know, we can’t deny this human condition that we find ourselves in, where none of us really knows why we’re here. And as a species that’s our . . . it’s our curse and it’s our blessing. And I think instead of allowing that uncertainty to freak us out, I think agnostics embrace it and see in it incredibly creative possibilities for how to live a fulfilling life that is never about doing things for some sort of future pleasure or future reward, but a kind of immediacy in living. And in my family’s incarnation of that, that means sort of a kind of taking a sort of joy in being together that’s the best kind of religion.
Recorded on: 12/6/07