It’s been a whirlwind few years for Kristen Roupenian. In 2014, as she was finishing a Ph.D. in English at Harvard, she abandoned her plan to work at the State Department and decided to go for an MFA in fiction instead. For many people, such a choice is the first step on a journey toward debt and eventual obscurity. For Roupenian, it’s resulted in a $1 million two-book deal, TV and film adaptations of her work, and an original screenplay in development.
The turning point for Roupenian, 37, was “Cat Person,” her viral short story, published in The New Yorker in 2017, about a college student’s date-gone-bad with an older man. Her new collection of horror-tinged tales, You Know You Want This, tackles more twisted romantic relationships, kinky sex and children navigating parental divorce. While her darkest work is “not remotely autobiographical,” Roupenian says, it is cathartic.
“When I think about the stories that are ugly, that come from a messier place, I feel like something’s getting purged. I’ll have a bad feeling, like something is bothering me that I can’t interpret. And through the process of writing, in the end, I’m safe from that feeling.”