Kathryn "Kitsi" Watterson is the author of nine books, three of which are New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Her works include the pioneering Women in Prison, which led to an ABC “Close Up” documentary, a play, "Inside the Concrete Womb," the founding of prisoner support organizations across the country, and ongoing scholarly study. Her creative nonfiction includes Not by the Sword,which won a 1996 Christopher Award and inspired a play and opera, and You Must Be Dreaming (co-author), which exposes a world-famous psychiatrist who systemically drugged and sexually assaulted his patients. This New York TimesNotable Book inspired the NBC movie, “Betrayal of Trust.” Watterson’s short stories and essays have appeared in TriQuarterly, Writers’ Forum, Northeast Corridor, Santa Monica Review, and Fourth Genre, and her articles in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The International Herald Tribune.
Her newest book, I Hear My People Singing: Voices of African-American Princeton, published by Princeton University Press (2017) with a foreword by Cornel West, “recasts American history as a whole by presenting in their own words the full lives of black Princetonians, lives forged within the utterly everyday Americanness of enslavement, segregation, and insult,” according to historian Nell Painter. I Hear My People Singing grew out of an oral history project that began in 1999, when Watterson enlisted her Princeton University students to help her and her neighborhood partners save the stories of a generation who had grown up in Princeton, NJ, when segregation was a way of life in the schools, restaurants, stores, and on campus. Their words, excerpted from fifty-five interviews, provide a living account that intimately connects the residents of the Witherspoon-Jackson community to the lives lived by their enslaved grandparents, great-grandparents and great-greats before them. Their stories shine light into the inner spirit of a people, who for the past three and a half centuries, against the constant tyranny of discrimination, actively worked to bring down the barriers erected to bar their progress. The introduction to the book and to each chapter contextualizes the historical background, while the residents’ personal stories connect us through time. The strength shown in this small black neighborhood defies anti-black stereotypes, and affirms the beauty, resilience, and dignity of Black lives. As one reader wrote: “Reading this book is not an intellectual exercise. It takes us into the human experience. The power of the individual opens our eyes and hearts to other people’s lives and becomes woven into our own.”
At the University of Pennsylvania where she currently teaches, Kitsi Watterson has hosted events at Kelly Writers’ House that include“Reckoning with Torture,” a film project of PEN and the ACLU, and “One Hundred Thousand Poets for Change.” She sings and drums with TheUnity, a popular improvisational music trio. She currently is at work on a novel set in Philadelphia and a short story collection.