Karen Shepard Chronicles Imperfect Women’s Lives


Author and Williams College Senior Lecturer Karen Shepard read from her collection of short stories, Kiss Me Someone (see the New York Times review here) at the final installment of the Writers’ Workshop on January 14. During her visit on campus, she visited the Writers’ Workshop English class and gave a public reading.

The author of four novels—Don’t I Know You, The Celestials, The Bad Boy’s Wife, and An Empire of Women—Shepard often focuses on women’s experiences, on imperfect women, who behave…well, badly. But they’re not caricatures; Shepard layers them, rendering them human, said English Department Chair Sarah Sawyer, who oversees the Writers’ Workshop series. “She is unafraid to confront the complexities of being a woman, and her characters are flawed, intriguing, and real,” she said. “Her writing reminds me of Simone de Beauvoir’s claim: ‘I’ve shown women as they are, as divided human beings, and not as they ought to be.’”

During Shepard’s presentation, she interspersed readings with questions and answers from the audience, which included students in Matt Liebowitz’s Writers’ Workshop class, as well as interested students, faculty, and staff. “Ms. Shepard engaged their intellectual and creative minds during the workshop,” said Liebowitz. “And in the formal presentation she read a story ‘Popular Girls,’ that seemed to resonate not only because of the encompassing and slightly scary narritive of the story, but in the engrossing way she read it, the shocking, the slyly humorous all blended together.”

Shepard talked about the oft-given advice to writers to “write what you know,” prompting a conversation about identity. She asked rhetorically, “As a Chinese-American, half Jewish person, must all my narrators be Chinese-American Jews?”

As if to answer her own question, she said, “I am much more interested in writing about what I don’t know than what I do know,” she said. “I write about what I want to know.”