Frequently Asked Questions
Could you tell me more about yourself?
I grew up at the mouth of the Detroit River on the island of Grosse Ile, Michigan, at the edge of a string of factory towns Detroiters refer to as Downriver. My mother taught fifth grade; my father was general foreman in charge of maintenance of Powertrain, the second-largest General Motors engine plant in the world.
I attended the MFA program at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where my thesis director was poet Pattiann Rogers. I now teach undergraduates and graduate students in The Creative Writing Programs at Hamline University, where I also serve as Poetry Editor of Water~Stone Review. My teaching style is a hybrid of what I learned as a student in a traditional MFA program and what I learned while teaching interdisciplinary courses to visual artists in a hands-on studio setting during a stint at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design — perhaps best exemplified by one of my newest teaching projects, the national online undergraduate literary magazine, Runestone.
I met my husband, novelist John Reimringer, team-teaching poetry workshops in the Arkansas public schools. In the last twenty years, we’ve lived together in a tiny yellow rental house in the Ozarks; in a converted garage down the street from William S. Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas; and, since 2001, in a 1920 arts-and-crafts bungalow in the Midway neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota. We have also lived apart twice: once when I spent the 1999-2000 school year on a Fulbright in Utrecht, Netherlands, writing Atlas; and again when I spent six months in the Berkshires as the Amy Clampitt Fellow, writing The Alphabet Not Unlike the World. We have a daughter.
I’ve published poetry and nonfiction in The Southern Review, The American Scholar, Blackbird, Poetry Daily, Poetry Northwest, The Rumpus, Orion, The Writer’s Almanac, The Iowa Review, The Sun, Alaska Quarterly Review, Post Road, Poets and Writers, and other journals, as well as several anthologies, including Where One Voice Ends Another Begins: 150 Years of Minnesota Poetry. I’ve had a poem stanza serve as an epigraph in the YA novel Paper Towns by John Green, and inspire the Amsterdam subplot in The Fault in Our Stars. I’m the recipient of a Bush Artist Fellowship, a Loft-McKnight Award, a Minnesota State Arts Board grant, and residencies from the Amy Clampitt Fund, the Poetry Center of Chicago, the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, and the MacDowell Colony. My first book, Atlas, was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award. I’ve been a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. I’ve read from my work at several AWP Conferences, the L.A. Times Festival of Books, Chicago Tribune’s Printers’ Row Book Fair, The Writers’ Place of Kansas City, and other venues.
Could you talk the real-life experiences with hemophilia and AIDS you write about in Atlas?
I met my boyfriend Tim Haas at college in the spring of 1991. I was 20, he was 21, and we were both working on our college’s literary magazine. He told me he was HIV positive on our first date, before we’d even kissed. I never would have believed it; he looked so healthy.
In 1991, people still considered AIDS to be a form of moral judgment. HIV was as a shameful secret. Tim was the first person I’d met with HIV. He and his older brother Greg had severe hemophilia, and like the ten thousand other Americans with hemophilia, they had both been infected with the virus by the medication they used to help make their blood clot. This medication, Factor VIII, was very expensive, made from untreated blood, and both brothers infused it into their veins several times a week from the time they were born. The boys had been infected as early as 1981, when Tim was 12 and Greg was 18; they learned that they had HIV in 1984.
Internal memos from various pharmaceutical companies suggested that the companies who made their medication knew their products were infected long before they recalled them and changed their methods of production. After Tim graduated, he moved to Boston with his brother Greg, where they got involved with a grassroots activist group of hemophiliacs with HIV, The Committee of Ten Thousand. Tim helped Greg edit their quarterly newsletter, The Common Factor. The group advocated for a class action suit against these pharmaceutical companies. You can read more about this here or here.
You might also read And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts, or Blood Saga: Hemophilia, AIDS, and the Survival of a Community, by Susan Resnik. Or you can watch this documentary.
When I went to graduate school in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Tim came with me. There, Tim and I spoke about our experiences as an HIV+ / HIV- couple at schools and churches throughout Arkansas.
Tim died in 1994; his brother died in 1995; the class action suit was overturned upon appeal.
After the companies finally recalled the tainted clotting factor and started selling a safer product in the west, they continued to sell the tainted product overseas, infecting hemophiliacs in Asia and Latin America.
I’m not someone who writes eloquently about events as they’re happening. It took eight years for me to be able to write about this experience. But I can talk at length about the history of hemophilia, AIDS, and the blood supply — you’re free to ask more about it if I visit your college or if you interview me.
Are you still in love with Tim?
I’m still sad that he died, and that I never got to know him as an adult. But when I finished writing Atlas, I closed the book on that part of my life. Looking at media footage from that period — all that fear, anger, and helplessness as so many friends died — upsets me, so I try not to do it often.
I understand that the event of his death can feel immediate when you’re reading Atlas. But Tim and I were together for four years, half a lifetime ago. My husband and I have been together twenty years. The two relationships are both important to me, but by now they are also very different.
How does your husband feel about this?
It’s one of the many reasons he loves me.
Do you have HIV?
That’s kind of a personal question. No.
How do you know John Green?
John and I met at the Oxford Book Conference in 2005, where we were giving early readings from our first books, Atlas and Looking for Alaska, and both fell for each other’s work. I’m very proud that he used a stanza from my poem “Jack O’Lantern” as an epigraph for Paper Towns, and that my poem “Tulipomania” helped inspire The Fault in Our Stars. I admire the way he’s unabashed about what he loves. I wish I had his energy, and that I could write as fast as he does.
Yes, he’s as fun and smart and kind in real life as he looks in his videos.
I’d like to invite you to give a reading at my college or in my reading series. What should I do to get this set up?
Send me a message using the web contact form. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
How can I get an image and/or your bio for an upcoming event?
You can easily get an updated biography and download a profile image and book image from the downloadable press kit available on the Contact Katrina page.
I’d like to quote from your work. Whom should I contact?
Would you read a few of my poems / read my manuscript / do an individual critique of my work / let me take you out for coffee so we could talk about my writing / mentor me?
I have a question I don’t see here.
Send me a message using the web contact form. I don’t guarantee I can answer it, but I’ll try.