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Ceridwen Dovey on JM Coetzee

  • Date recorded: 4 Oct 2018

  • Duration: 46:20

'I feel really, really grateful to Coetzee because of what he gave my mother: he gave her a life of the mind at a time when women were still having to fight for a place at that table.'

– Ceridwen Dovey

About this video

Author Ceridwen Dovey discusses her new book, On JM Coetzee, the fourth book in the Writers on Writers series in which leading writers reflect on another Australian writer who has inspired and influenced them.

Ceridwen reflects on the significance of her mother's groundbreaking academic engagement with the works of JM Coetzee that began years before he received international recognition. 

In conversation with Laura-Jean McKay, Ceridwen discusses Coetzee's use of fable and allegory as an influence on her own writing; their shared backgrounds as white South Africans who emigrated to Australia; and Coetzee's prescient engagement with identity politics, feminism and #metoo themes. 

Ceridwen also reflects on handwritten correspondence between her mother and Coetzee which she unearthed in a shoebox in her mother's cupboard; and the legacy of her mother's intellectual engagement on her own 'love of words and books'. 

The interview concludes with an entertaining anecdote (in response to an audience question) about two occasions when Coetzee kindly wrote blurbs for Ceridwen's books and she was faced with the dilemma of choosing a thank-you gift for the notoriously private author.

This free event was held at State Library Victoria on 4 October 2018.


Ceridwen Dovey was born in South Africa and grew up between South Africa and Australia. Her debut novel, Blood kin, was published in 15 countries and shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Award. Her second book, Only the animals, won the inaugural 2014 Readings New Australian Writing Award, and her new novel, In the garden of the fugitives, was published earlier this year. She writes non-fiction regularly for newyorker.com and The Monthly, and lives in Sydney.
Laura Jean McKay is the author of Holiday in Cambodia and has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne.