Invited Talk by Katia Kapovich

The reading and conversation with Katia Kapovich “Keys to the Prison” Katia Kapovich


Katia is a dual-language writer, who immigrated from Moscow in 1990. She was a member of a literary dissident movement, and her father spent eight years of his life in a jail. Katia has also won a variety of awards, now lives in Cambridge, MA, and works as an editor for a magazine with her husband. During the talk, Katia answered the audience’s questions in detail regarding short story “Soup Gazpacho.” Interestingly enough, she described the story as a mini autobiography, as it was based off of a few real events. In addition, she touched upon the process used in her writings. Katia attempts to use real world phenomena, particularly those associated with immoral action, when crafting her pieces. Before writing, she tries to put herself in the readers’ shoes in order to better understand what they would want to see in her compositions. Throughout the years, she has chosen to explore negative concepts and themes in her writing as opposed to positive ones, as she thinks those are more interesting for both herself and the audience. Katia’s way of thinking was highly influenced by Bertrand Russell and his essay On the Value of Skepticism. She has always been intrigued by people and their intentions, in specific, and so she attempts to use that analysis in her writing, as well. Katia talked about her interest in the overlap between psychology and philosophy, which she utilizes in her pieces. When asked a question regarding the unfinished ending of her story, she gave a very thought-provoking response. She said that through her writing she likes to create a world that is separate from the one we live in, so it is solely the readers job to create an ending for the main character.

In addition to the discussion of her short story, she also touched upon the difficulties she endured in the USSR. She spent some time in a mental asylum, since she was very outspoken regarding her views. What she witnessed there left a huge impression on her, and she had always wanted to write about it. However, since this instance hit too close to home, she felt uneasy writing about it in Russian, so she chose to write in English. Years later, she was able to finally produce a book of poems in Russian, specifically about her experience in the asylum. She ended her talk with an intriguing concept: that immigration is equivalent to a rebirth. Once a person goes through immigration, they are forever changed and there is no going back. –Joe