Sarah Blakley-Cartwright is the publishing director of the Chicago Review of Books, associate editor of A Public Space, and host of the reading series at art gallery Karma. In 2011, she published the New York Times bestseller Red Riding Hood, which was also a film starring Amanda Seyfried and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio in the same year. Currently, she and her boyfriend, the artist Nicolas Party, split their residence between Brussels and Brooklyn. Pepoli, the toy poodle, is the newest member of their household.
Let’s start at the beginning. Did you have a childhood with pets?
Growing up, I had a Wheaten Terrier named Angie and a Chihuahua mix named Judy. While I was in college, my grandmother bought a toy poodle—then decided it was the wrong shape. Poodles are supposed to be square from shoulder to tail and along the ground. So, my dad adopted her. She was an apricot toy poodle named Fig and her shape was just right by my standards.
How did Pepoli come into your life?
My grandfather, who is over 100 years old and lives happily in Manhattan, has had toy poodles since the 1940s. Toy poodles are energetic and responsive. They have kept him young. Papa [my grandfather] spent every April and every October in Paris and brought his toy poodle along. A toy poodle was also a fit in Paris.
His breeder is in New Hampshire and has been at it for 40 years. Nicolas and I weren’t ready for a dog, but she [the breeder] called me and said, “I have a very special puppy here.” I said, “How special?”
“[Pepoli] is like an Atticus Finch in balloon pants or furry chaps. He would hold the door for me if he could.”
Tell us about a day in the life with you and Pepoli.
Pepoli is very special, as promised. He’s not a yipper, or a noisemaker in general, so he comes with me everywhere. I have a fake [Louis] Vuitton bag that he hops into whenever it looks like I’m ready to go. He knows we will go to the dog park, to my office, to a park near my office, and maybe even out to drinks or dinner. We read together in the evenings.
Tell us about the basketball league you play in. What does Pepoli do on the team?
I am a member of Downtown Girls Basketball and have been playing with the team for five years. Pepoli sits quietly on the sidelines and gets his photo taken by my teammates until he suddenly decides one of us is in danger of a flying orange spherical object being lobbed near our heads—and then it’s his job to alert us. It’s the sideliners’ duty to assure him it’s only a game.
Have you met more neighbors since you got Pepoli?
Early potty training meant hauling us both outside at every hour, in a long t-shirt and slippers. You can imagine I met some characters in Bushwick. At first, I was on-guard, but as the nights went on, I enjoyed meeting the late-night crowd, in all its guises.
Some of the most “serious” people have the silliest nicknames for or manners of speaking to their dog. Care to share some of yours?
We like Peapod and stop short of Pepperoni.
What are some of Pepoli’s favorite toys and where do they come from?
In the beginning, I stocked up on handcrafted artisan toys, but I soon found that his favorite toys were the tried and true—the Kongs and no-stuffing raccoons—widely available. They’re like the canine Sophie the Giraffes, which I would wager a bet you can find in the background of every last baby photo on your feed.
I noticed you have an extremely excellent collection of The Laundress products in your home. Do you use it to clean up Pepoli’s messes?
Pepoli is shockingly tidy. He will trot down the block to avoid a shallow puddle—though there were early house training accidents and, as a result, I have gotten much better at fabric care. For years, I wondered why whites went gray and cashmeres pilled. We like to shop at Bushwick Bark where we currently live, and Beasty Feast in the neighborhood we will be moving to. Jax & Bones made our patterned orange crate covers and pads.
Where did you get your knockoff dog bag? What do you love about it?
Online, which I hate to admit, especially as someone who works in the literary industry. Shopping locally is important, for people and the planet. I’ve seen faux designer bags on Canal Street. I like wearing a knockoff bag alongside something by a designer. No one knows the difference.
How do you identify with your dog?
Pepoli and I love to nap and be quiet at the end of a day, and dislike screeching subways and cars with heavy exhaust. We’re also both instinctive and observant.
Tell us about these postcards that your boyfriend, Nicolas, paints you. What’s the story behind them?
Nicolas is Swiss and lived in Brussels when we met. Now we both live between Brussels and New York, but he is an artist and travels, so there is still a lot of time we are long-distance. He paints me a good-morning card and takes a picture that I wake up to every morning. When we see each other again, he gives me the stack. We have been together nearly four years, and I have hundreds. He’s never missed a day.
Tell us about your apartment in Bushwick. It’s full of little literary nuggets, like these first-edition Paris Reviews and the book rug. How has Pepoli changed the way home feels for you?
We live in a loft. Having Pepoli has helped give the space structure. His crate is in one area, his food and water in another, his favorite rug in another. He has helped define a space that for so long felt undetermined. We don’t leave anything on the floor anymore, because it immediately becomes his property. He stores everything in his crate and takes them out one by one.
Our bed is a walnut-wood sleigh bed that we found at auction the week we got Pepoli—it came without slats or risers. We left it that way because he was too small at the time to jump safely off a raised bed. Now he’s a bit bigger and suspension solutions are a project for this weekend. Pepoli is not allowed at The Wing—where you and I met—so I have had to get creative with workspaces. Luckily, he is allowed at A Public Space.
In your book, Red Riding Hood, there’s a canine—a wolf. Tell us about how you wrote the character. Do you have any other favorite canines in literature?
Wolves have a long history of persecution by humans and it was important to me that the wolf in Red Riding Hood not be vilified. Wolves are cooperative social animals and, in the ecosystemic order, even protect against climate change. I liked that a werewolf has humanizing characteristics. Donna Haraway writes wonderfully about her beloved collie, Cayenne, while also questioning the ethics surrounding humans’ conversion of the canine into a companion species. A favorite dog in recent literature is Eileen Myles’ Rosie. I haven’t yet edited a dog story, though if you’ve got one, please submit it to A Public Space!
What do you do at A Public Space, by the way?
At A Public Space, we are on rotation between fundraising for the current issue, reading for the current issue, promoting the current issue, and then starting to prepare for the next one. I love working for a woman and with women and have been proud to help promote women in literature via the magazine’s efforts. Last month, we published a writer named Bette Howland, who had fallen out of print and was overdue for rediscovery. We set out with the mission to restore her to the canon.
If Pepoli were a human, how would you describe him?
Pepoli is a very small gentleman. He is a good listener and likes to look sharp; he likes to be groomed, but is unfussy. He has sensitive paws, but won’t tell you so. He is courteous and gallant. He is like an Atticus Finch in balloon pants or furry chaps. He would hold the door for me if he could.
Photography by Tayler Smith