Kathryn Harrison

Kathryn Harrison

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Kathryn Harrison is an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...


Background and education

Harrison's maternal grandparents raised her in Los Angeles, California. She graduated from Stanford University
Stanford University
The Leland Stanford Junior University, commonly referred to as Stanford University or Stanford, is a private research university on an campus located near Palo Alto, California. It is situated in the northwestern Santa Clara Valley on the San Francisco Peninsula, approximately northwest of San...

 in 1982 with a Bachelor of Arts
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 degree in English and Art History; she received a Master of Fine Arts
Master of Fine Arts
A Master of Fine Arts is a graduate degree typically requiring 2–3 years of postgraduate study beyond the bachelor's degree , although the term of study will vary by country or by university. The MFA is usually awarded in visual arts, creative writing, filmmaking, dance, or theatre/performing arts...

 degree from the University of Iowa
University of Iowa
The University of Iowa is a public state-supported research university located in Iowa City, Iowa, United States. It is the oldest public university in the state. The university is organized into eleven colleges granting undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees...

 in 1987 after attending that school's Writers' Workshop.


Harrison's memoir The Kiss documented a love triangle
Love triangle
A love triangle is usually a romantic relationship involving three people. While it can refer to two people independently romantically linked with a third, it usually implies that each of the three people has some kind of relationship to the other two...

 that developed involving her young mother, her father, and herself. It described her father's seduction of her when she was twenty and their incestuous involvement, which persisted for four years and is reflected in the plots and themes of her first three novels, published before The Kiss. In The New York Times Book Review
The New York Times Book Review
The New York Times Book Review is a weekly paper-magazine supplement to The New York Times in which current non-fiction and fiction books are reviewed. It is one of the most influential and widely read book review publications in the industry. The offices are located near Times Square in New York...

 writer and memoirist Susan Cheever
Susan Cheever
Susan Cheever, , daughter of John Cheever and sister of Benjamin Cheever, is an author whose books include My Name is Bill - Bill Wilson: His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous, a biography of Alcoholics Anonymous cofounder Bill Wilson; Home Before Dark, a memoir about her father, John...

 wrote of the book, "The story of an intellectually powerful man and his consuming desire to ravish an innocent, almost preconscious, young woman (sometimes his daughter) has often been told—Zeus, Lewis Carroll and Humbert Humbert come to mind—but Kathryn Harrison turns up the volume, making this ancient immorality tale a struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between God and the Devil." In The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

 critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt is an American journalist, critic and novelist who has worked in the field of books all of his professional career. He began as an editor for various New York City publishing houses, among them Holt, Rinehart and Winston and The Dial Press, from where he moved in 1965 to...

 called the memoir "appalling but beautifully written." In The New Republic
The New Republic
The magazine has also published two articles concerning income inequality, largely criticizing conservative economists for their attempts to deny the existence or negative effect increasing income inequality is having on the United States...

, by contrast, James Wolcott
James Wolcott
James Wolcott is an American journalist, known for his critique of contemporary media. Wolcott is the cultural critic for Vanity Fair and contributes to The New Yorker. He also writes a blog....

 strongly criticized the work, asking at one point, "Did she call him 'Dad' in bed?"

While much of her body of work—the essays collected in Seeking Rapture: Scenes From a Life; a second memoir, The Mother Knot; and The Kiss—documents her tortured relationship with her mother, who died in 1985, Harrison also has written extensively of her maternal grandparents, both in her personal essays and, in fictionalized form, in her novels. Her grandmother was raised in Shanghai
Shanghai is the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper in the world. It is one of the four province-level municipalities in the People's Republic of China, with a total population of over 23 million as of 2010...

, where she lived until 1920, her experiences there inspiring Harrison's historical novel, The Binding Chair. The Seal Wife, set in Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 (and which critic Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times called "mesmerizing"), draws on the early life of her British grandfather, who spent his youth trapping animals to obtain their fur in the Northwest Territories
Northwest Territories
The Northwest Territories is a federal territory of Canada.Located in northern Canada, the territory borders Canada's two other territories, Yukon to the west and Nunavut to the east, and three provinces: British Columbia to the southwest, and Alberta and Saskatchewan to the south...

 and laying track into Anchorage
Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage is a unified home rule municipality in the southcentral part of the U.S. state of Alaska. It is the northernmost major city in the United States...

 for the Alaska Railroad
Alaska Railroad
The Alaska Railroad is a Class II railroad which extends from Seward and Whittier, in the south of the state of Alaska, in the United States, to Fairbanks , and beyond to Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Wainwright in the interior of that state...


Harrison has published six novels, three memoirs, a travelogue, a biography, and a book of true crime. She frequently publishes reviews in The New York Times Book Review
The New York Times Book Review
The New York Times Book Review is a weekly paper-magazine supplement to The New York Times in which current non-fiction and fiction books are reviewed. It is one of the most influential and widely read book review publications in the industry. The offices are located near Times Square in New York...

. Her personal essays have been included in many anthologies and have appeared in Bookforum, Harper's Magazine
Harper's Magazine
Harper's Magazine is a monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts, with a generally left-wing perspective. It is the second-oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the U.S. . The current editor is Ellen Rosenbush, who replaced Roger Hodge in January 2010...

, More Magazine, The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Vogue
Vogue (magazine)
Vogue is a fashion and lifestyle magazine that is published monthly in 18 national and one regional edition by Condé Nast.-History:In 1892 Arthur Turnure founded Vogue as a weekly publication in the United States. When he died in 1909, Condé Montrose Nast picked up the magazine and slowly began...

, and at Salon.com
Salon.com, part of Salon Media Group , often just called Salon, is an online liberal magazine, with content updated each weekday. Salon was founded by David Talbot and launched on November 20, 1995. It was the internet's first online-only commercial publication. The magazine focuses on U.S...

, Nerve.Com and elsewhere.


She lives in New York with her husband, the novelist and book editor Colin Harrison, whom she met in 1985, when they were enrolled in the Iowa Writers' Workshop. They have three children, born in 1990, 1992, and 2000.


Harrison teaches memoir writing at the City University of New York
City University of New York
The City University of New York is the public university system of New York City, with its administrative offices in Yorkville in Manhattan. It is the largest urban university in the United States, consisting of 23 institutions: 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E...

's Hunter College
Hunter College
Hunter College, established in 1870, is a public university and one of the constituent colleges of the City University of New York, located on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Hunter grants undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate degrees in more than one hundred fields of study, and is recognized...

 as part of the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing.

External links

  • Kathryn Harrison's website
  • Interview from Bookforum
    Bookforum is a New York-based magazine devoted to books and the discussion of literature. It is edited by Albert Mobilio, Chris Lehmann, , and Michael Miller.-History: Bookforum was launched in 1994 as a literary supplement to Artforum...

     magazine, by Kera Bolonik