Kristen Roupenian grew up near Boston and had developed an interest in literature by high school, when she worked on her school’s literary magazine. She is now an alumna of the prestigious Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan, and she workshopped “Cat Person,” the story that marked her sudden and successful debut with the larger reading public, as part of her writing for the program.

Before enrolling in the program, Roupenian earned a BA at Barnard College. Interested in literature and in public health issues, she spent a year with the Peace Corps in Kenya after graduating from Barnard and then completed a doctorate at Harvard in English, with an additional focus on modern African literature. During her years at Harvard, she wrote a novel based on her experiences in Kenya, an experience that redirected her focus from studying literature to creating it. Before the viral success of “Cat Person,” Roupenian had some publications in literary journals, but the success of the story, when it was published in The New Yorker in December 2017, made her famous—and for some people infamous—as an emerging voice in American fiction. 

Roupenian has written that she was surprised when The New Yorker, a prestigious outlet for short fiction, accepted “Cat Person,” which several publications declined to publish. But even more surprising was the speed with which the story spread, via social media, to readers well beyond the subscription base of The New Yorker. Roupenian was not particularly active on social media at the time and had to catch up quickly as what she calls “the Internet controversy machine” cranked into high gear. Shortly after “Cat Person” went viral, Roupenian received a seven-figure deal with Scout Press (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). Her first story collection, You Know You Want This (later published with an additional story as Cat Person and Other Stories), debuted in 2017 and has been optioned for a television series. The collection of darkly humorous stories explores power dynamics that play out between men and women.