The “Cat Person” is an RPCV (Kenya)


Thanks to a “heads up” from NPCA’s Worldview Magazine and Peter Deekle (Iran 1968-70) I’ve learned that writer Kristen Roupenian (Kenya 2003-05) is a Peace Corps writer.

Kristen’s story “Cat Person in The New Yorker [December 11, 2017] about online dating was the weekly magazine’s second-most-read story of 2017.

Also Scout Press has paid a reported seven figures for the rights to two works by Roupenian. The first is a collection of stories, You Know You Want This that is scheduled for release in the spring of 2019.

In Worldview article on the achievements of RPCVs, Peter Deekle writes that as a PCV Kristen taught public health and HIV education at an orphan’s center a few hours from the Ugandan border, then worked as a teacher’s aide and a cashier in a bookstore before earning a Master’s degree in English at Harvard. Next she devoted five years to full-time writing. Today Kristen is at the University of Michigan on a writing fellowship.

Kristen Roupenian

At Harvard, she would write this about herself in her curriculum vitae:

I graduated from Barnard College in May of 2003. A few weeks later, I left for Kenya with the Peace Corps, where I spent two years teaching Public Health and HIV education at a small orphans’ center a few hours from the Ugandan border. During that time, I began learning Swahili and first encountered the literary magazine that later became the focus of my dissertation. Once I returned home, I worked as a teacher’s aide, a cashier at a bookstore, a freelance reporter, a nanny, and a research coordinator at Mass General Hospital before enrolling in the PhD program in English at Harvard in the fall of 2007.

My primary field of study is postcolonial and transnational literatures, with an emphasis on contemporary African fiction. My dissertation, “Dodging the Language Question: English, Politics, and the Life of a Kenyan Literary Magazine,” investigates the artistic and linguistic strategies employed by the literary magazine Kwani? during a period of intense social and political upheaval. Since I’ve been at Harvard, I’ve been lucky enough not only to be able to return to Nairobi to continue my research, but to invite the editor of Kwani? to campus to speak before an enthusiastic gathering of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. Last summer, I also received a grant to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where I volunteered at the Salaam Kivu International Film Festival and met a wide range of talented artists from from all over eastern and central Africa. One of the most rewarding  opportunities I’ve had during my time here has been working as a research assistant for Caroline Elkins when she served as an expert witness on behalf of Mau Mau veterans who are suing the British government because of atrocities committed during the colonial period. You can read more about that fascinating subject here and here.

My teaching philosophy, which emphasizes clarity, cultural sensitivity, and ethical engagement, stems directly from my time as an educator with the Peace Corps. In addition to my two junior tutorials for English majors (“How to Write About Africa” and “The New Global Novel”) I’ve worked as a TF in a variety of departments and programs at Harvard, including English, African and African American Studies, and Gen Ed. I am currently a tutor in History and Literature, advising junior and senior theses in the postcolonial field. I also teach in the wider Boston community in my role as a Community Awareness and Prevention volunteer with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.

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