Why did you start writing?

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.

  • Transcript


Question:Why did you start writing?

Dovey: I think it was . . .  I was in Cape Town.  I felt like I had failed in some kind of terminal way at the filmmaking – which is silly to say because I’m so young.  But it . . .  I had gotten into a dead end.  And so I think in a way the writing was an escape mechanism initially.  I wanted a creative outlet, and the kind of turning inwardness of fiction writing, it being so solitary and disengaging in a way from the realities of South Africa just seemed like a very appealing . . .  But I do think it was a way of avoiding, you know, that issue in a way.  And I need to find ways to reengage the __________ side of the writing, because that can then become endlessly self-indulgent.  And if you . . . if you don’t force yourself to kind of go out into the world and be accountable for these, you know, relationships you have with other people.

Question: Did writing resolve your problems with an imbalance of power

Dovey: Well again I think it’s no accident, then, that this first novel that I’ve written is not set anywhere geographically specific.  So there’s absolutely no cultural markers.  And that was a conscious decision not to set it in South Africa, because I felt that the politics of writing and representation was still too . . . too complicated for me to feel like I had any right to represent South Africa in any way.  So that was a useful . . .  So it’s in the form of a fable, and I think that non-specific form kind of allowed me to . . . to create characters who you are meant to identify with at a . . . actually __________ at a sort of bodily level where you identify with the kind of bodily rituals or bodily processes that, you know, kind of are repeated throughout the novel.  But it . . .  They’re not . . .  They’re not really characters from a, you know, specific geographical or national setting.  So in a way that’s also a way of dealing with the power issue.