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Bookworm Beat | Rosalie Knecht

In our column Bookworm Beat, read about some of our favorite books written by women and non-binary authors...

"I think there's no way to talk about a woman trying to establish independence, especially in a pre-Women's Lib time frame, especially if that woman is gay, without engaging with the reality of gender and history."

Vera Kelly works the night shifts at a New York radio station in between trying to make her rent and fit in to the 1960s New York gay scene when she is discovered by a CIA recruiter. She is assigned the task of wiretapping a congressman in Argentina and trying to infiltrate a group of radical, student activists. After becoming stranded in the country in the face of a betrayal and a shaky government situation, Vera is once again faced with how to fend for herself amidst the chaos.

Rosalie tells us a bit about the personal, family history that inspired her to write the novel, as well as challenges she faced with the setting and whether or not we might get to see Vera Kelly in another novel sometime soon.


How did you become interested in writing?

I just always was, from when I was little. I think the advantage of starting to write as a kid is that you don't feel the overwhelming sense of incompetence that adults feel.

In addition to writing, you are also a social worker. How does this influence your work as writer?

Social work is immensely helpful as a way of getting over yourself, to the extent that getting over yourself is ever really possible, and I think that's helpful for writing too. It's easier to focus on a broader range of stories when you're not as preoccupied with your own (at least in the literal sense–I think we're always working with bits of our own experience even if they're coming in a form that wouldn't be recognizable to others).

Tell us about what inspired your book Who Is Vera Kelly?

It was a lot of things, but the most obvious point is that my grandfather worked for the CIA in the 1950s, and was pushed out during the McCarthy years for having had leftist leanings as a college student years before.

The novel takes place in two very different places: New York City in the 1960s, and Argentina. What was it like writing about these two very different places?

They were both hard! Buenos Aires because I only spent a few weekends there–when I lived in Argentina, I was based in a much smaller city about six hours away called Santa Fe, so I had to check geography and look at maps and photos online a lot. And New York was hard, even though I live here, because the parts of the book set there were fifty years ago and there are so many ways to get anachronistic. And people KNOW. New Yorkers are not casual about accuracy on these things.

Photo Credit: Michael P. Geraci

Vera becomes heavily involved with a political plan. Do you think this is still something that could happen to someone trying to find themselves today given our wild political climate?

Sure. This kind of thing goes on all the time.

Would you consider this book feminist or concerned with feminist principles?

I think there's no way to talk about a woman trying to establish independence, especially in a pre-Women's Lib time frame, especially if that woman is gay, without engaging with the reality of gender and history. I'm happy to consider myself a feminist. It wasn't my specific intention when I started to write a feminist book, but it's part of how I engage with the world, and there's no way to coherently talk about those topics without pointing out obvious facts (e.g., the world was and remains unfair to women) that are considered specifically feminist in some quarters.

Vera works to infiltrate a group of student activists against the government in Buenos Aires. What were the challenges in writing about this group and this time period during the Cold War?

The hard thing is trying to depict zealotry in politics without letting it devolve into something cartoonish.

What is coming up next for you?

Another Vera Kelly book. The hope is that it will be a trilogy.


Follow Rosalie Knecht on Twitter. Who Is Vera Kelly? is available now from Tin House Books.


Rachel A.G. Gilman is the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Creature.

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