Shonk, Katherine 1968(?)-

views updated

Shonk, Katherine 1968(?)-

PERSONAL: Born c. 1968. in Chicago, IL. Education: University of Illinois, graduated 1990; University of Texas, M.A.

ADDRESSES: Home—Evanston, IL. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Secretary and editor, 1990-95; worked in Russia, 1995-96; Harvard Business School, Cambridge, MA, editor and researcher, 1999-.

AWARDS, HONORS: James Michener fellowship, University of Texas; Illinois Arts Council award and fellowship.


(With Max H. Bazerman and Jonathan Baron) You Can't Enlarge the Pie: Six Barriers to Effective Government, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2001.

The Red Passport, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Tin House, American Short Fiction, CutBank, Georgia Review, and Story Quarterly.

Author's short fiction has appeared in anthologies, including Best American Short Stories 2001, edited by Katrina Kenison, Houghton Mifflin (New York, NY), 2001. Member of editorial board, River Oak Review.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A collection of short stories set in Russia and Ukraine; a novel not set in Russia.

SIDELIGHTS: Primarily known as a short story writer, Katherine Shonk pens stories about the changing social and cultural climate of Russia in prose that is "spun with grace and deep psychological insight," wrote reviewer Hedy Weiss in the Chicago Sun-Times. A yearlong visit to Russia forms the kernel of her short-story collection The Red Passport. Shonk's stay in "a decidedly unglamourous Khruschev-era housing bloc" allowed her a street-level view of daily Russian life, Weiss noted.

In "The Young People of Moscow," Vassily and Nina, an elderly married couple, are forced to survive by selling copies of Vassily's books of poetry to travelers in the metro station. The tragedy of their own child's death years earlier hangs over them, but their world changes when media attention is drawn to them after Vassily "recites a children's poem in what had seemed a delirium but which turns out to be a beautiful lucidity," commented Mary Cappello in the Women's Review of Books.

Leslie, a well-meaning young American Russophile in "Kitchen Friends," forms a therapy group for Russians recently caught in a deadly explosion on Moscow's public transportation. Though Leslie tries her best to help victims of the current trauma, secretly she seeks to atone for wrongs committed by her own Russian ancestors. "Russians, one character explains, don't have the luxury of being preoccupied with the past," Cappello noted.

In "The Wooden Village of Kizhi," three women struggle to come to terms with each other and with three versions of the same Russia, past, present, and future. "My Mother's Garden," which appeared in Best American Short Stories, centers around Yulia, a woman slowly dying of radiation exposure near Chernobyl, who refuses to leave the area, while her daughter fears visiting because of radiation danger. The abnormally large vegetables in her mother's garden are not symbols of plenty and recovery, but of the grotesque and of misplaced hope.

Shonk captures the Russian mindset so well that "At times throughout these stories, Shonk's narratives sound like a translation of Russian literature, or triumphs of Slavic ventriloquism" transferred to print, observed Brian Bouldrey in Chicago's Tribune Books. Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman stated that "These are, in fact, important stories, at once timeless and searingly of the moment" in contemporary Russia, while Cappello remarked upon Shonk's "masterful configuration of Russian/American encounters" throughout the book. Shonk "writes with the comfortable sense of one who has not only been there but taken a good look around," commented Rodney Welch in an appraisal of the author's short fiction for the New York Times Book Review. Bouldrey concluded that The Red Passport is "a fine debut collection of tales told in a new, clear voice."



Booklist, November 1, 2003, review of The Red Passport, p. 481.

Boston Globe, November 12, 2003, Scott W. Helman, review of The Red Passport, p. D2.

Chicago Sun-Times, October 28, 2003, Hedy Weiss, review of The Red Passport, p. 31.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2003, review of The Red Passport, p. 1098.

Library Journal, October 15, 2003, Lisa Rohrbaugh, review of The Red Passport, p. 101.

New York Times Book Review, January 25, 2004, Rodney Welch, review of The Red Passport, p. 20.

Publishers Weekly, October 6, 2003, review of The Red Passport, p. 58.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 23, 2003, Brian Bouldrey, review of The Red Passport, p. 1.

Women's Review of Books, April, 2004, Mary Cappello, review of The Red Passport, p. 10.


Katherine Shonk Home Page, (December 17, 2004).