Kathe Koja

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Kathe Koja with Walter Jon Williams in 2005
(photo by Cory Doctorow)

Kathe Koja (born 1960) is an American writer. She was initially known for her intense speculative fiction for adults,[1] but has written young adult novels, the historical fiction Under the Poppy trilogy, and a fictional biography of Christopher Marlowe.[2]

Koja is also a prolific author of short stories, including many in collaboration with Barry N. Malzberg. Koja has also collaborated with Carter Scholz.[3] Most of her short fiction remains uncollected. Koja's novels and short stories frequently concern characters who have been in some way marginalized by society, often focusing on the transcendence and/or disintegration which proceeds from this social isolation (as in The Cipher, Bad Brains, "Teratisms," The Blue Mirror, etc.). Koja won the Bram Stoker Award and the Locus Award for her first novel The Cipher, and a Deathrealm Award for Strange Angels.[4] Her prose has been described as "stunning".[4]

Koja was born in Detroit, Michigan,[5] the second of two sisters.[6] She began writing when very young, but only became serious about it after attending a Clarion workshop.[7]

Koja lives near Detroit, Michigan, and is married to the illustrator Rick Lieder, who often does her book jackets.[6] They have one son.[6]

Koja's literary works have been recognized and highlighted at Michigan State University in their Michigan Writers Series.[8]

Koja is founding director of nerve,[9] a Detroit-based immersive theatre company.

Koja is a Democrat.[10]

Koja is a supporter of Mercy for Animals, PETA, and the Michigan Anti-Cruelty society[10]


In regard to her earlier works, Koja says that the fundamental question at the heart of her stories deal with the philosophy of transcendence. Koja probes in an interview with Dark Echo: “when we will to be more than we are, what do we do? How do we choose what then to become, and how accomplish that becoming? And after transformation -- what?”.[3]

This theme of transcendence applies to The Cipher, Bad Brains, Strange Angels, Skin, and Kink. Koja says that this transformative transcendence is explored in each of these novels either through a fundamental change of character experienced by a character, or, through the interaction with an actual presence such as the “funhole” in The Cipher[3]

Koja’s first novel, The Cipher, was originally entitled The Funhole. The editor Jeanne Cavelos published Koja’s novel through the Dell Abyss line. Dell rejected the original title.[11]

On writing for young adults, Koja states that she loves the young adult genre for the fact that as an author, she is granted the ability to re-examine that aspect of life, including the highs and lows of adolescence. Koja describes this period of life as a place where change is inevitable and almost anything can happen, and to Koja that is exciting. In Koja’s stories, the characters themselves have a close relationship with art. Koja does this because in her personal life and travels, she encounters other writers who use their art as a place of shelter. The art of these individuals, in Koja’s eyes, are a reflection of themselves. Their art is likened to a mirror.[10]

Koja's work is influenced by Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, Carter Scholz, Sylvia Plath.[3] The film Night of the Living Dead also was a big influence (HNR).[12]


Koja won the Bram Stoker Award and the Locus Award for her first novel The Cipher, which was also nominated for the Philip K Dick Award. She also won a Deathrealm Award for Strange Angels.[4][13]

Kathe Koja won the Locus Award for Best First Novel as well as the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Horror Novel from the Horror Writers of America. Both awards were received in 1992, and both for Koja’s Novel, The Cipher. She was also awarded the Humane Societies Kid’s in Nature’s Defense honor, and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Henry Bergh Award, both in 2002, and both for Koja’s Novel Straydog. Koja is also the recipient of the Children’s Book Award, International Reading Association, and Aociety of Midland Authors Children’s Fiction Award, both in 2004, and awards were for her novel Buddha Boy.[10]

Kathe Koja noted in her Biography for Macmillan publishing that she is particularly proud of her awards honored by the Humane Society and ASPCA.[5]

Koja’s first novel in 2002, Straydog, received positive reviews and awards. Paula Rohrlick, writing in Kliatt, praised Straydog as a "short, swift read … packed full of emotion." A critic for Kirkus Reviews added that "fans of tales about teen writers, or stories with animal themes, will pant after this." Similarly, a contributor to Publishers Weekly described Straydog as a "solid if sometimes familiar tale of a high school misfit" that presents teen readers with a "compelling and sympathetic" protagonist in Rachel. Farida S. Dowler, writing in School Library Journal, noted that Koja's presentation of Rachel's growing "friendship with Griffin has romantic tension, but transcends high-school stereotypes," while in Horn Book Jennifer M. Brabander concluded that the novel is a "fast but semi-sophisticated read for teens who haven't outgrown dog stories."[10]

Praising The Blue Mirror as an "eerie, psychologically gripping urban tale" similar to the work of author Francesca Lia Block, a Publishers Weekly reviewer added that in her story "Koja explores the confusion between infatuation and real love—in all its cruelty and its redemptive powers." In the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, a reviewer gave special note to Koja's protagonist, noting that "Maggy's voice is articulate, controlled, and self-aware, which makes for intriguing reading." Of the novel, Koja noted on her Web site: "The Blue Mirror is concerned with vision, the way we see—or sometimes refuse to see—what's right in front of us, and what can happen when we open our eyes."[10]



  • The Cipher (1991)
  • Bad Brains (1992)
  • Skin (1993)
  • Strange Angels (1994)
  • Kink (1996)
  • Extremities (1997) (collection)
  • Under the Poppy (2010)
  • The Mercury Waltz (2014)
  • The Bastards' Paradise (2015)
  • Christopher Wild (2017)

Young adult[edit]

  • Straydog (2002)
  • Buddha Boy (2003)
  • The Blue Mirror (2004)
  • Talk (2005)
  • Going Under (2006)
  • Kissing the Bee (2007)
  • Headlong (2008)

Short stories[edit]

  • Happy Birthday (1987)
  • Professional Image (1988)
  • Distances (1988)
  • Skin Deep (1989)
  • The Energies of Love (1989)
  • Illusions in Relief (1990)
  • True Colors (1990)
  • Reckoning (1990)
  • Command Performance (1990)
  • Angels in Love (1991)
  • Angels' Moon (1991)
  • Teratisms (1991)
  • The Prince of Nox (1992)
  • By the Mirror of My Youth (1992)
  • Letting Go (1992)
  • The Company of Storms (1992)
  • Persephone (1992)
  • Ballad of Spanish Civil Guard (1993)
  • I Shall Do Thee Mischief in the Wood (1993)
  • Leavings (1993)
  • Rex Tremandae Majestatis (1993)
  • The High Ground (1993)
  • The Timbrel Sound of Darkness (1993)
  • Metal Fatigue (1993)
  • Arrangement for Invisible Voices (1993)
  • In the Greenhouse (1994)
  • Modern Romance (1994)
  • The Careful Geometry of Love (1994)
  • The Disquieting Muse (1994)
  • Queen of Angels (1994)
  • Literary Lives (1994)
  • Buyer's Remorse (1995)
  • Girl's Night Out (1995)
  • Jubilee (1995)
  • Mysterious Elisions, Riotous Thrusts (1995)
  • Pas de Deux (1995)
  • The Unbolted (1995)
  • Waking the Prince (1995)
  • The Witches of Delight (1995)
  • DMZ (1995)
  • The Uchained (1995)
  • Three Portraits from Heisenberg (1995)
  • Homage to Custom (1996)
  • Ursus Traid Later (1996)
  • Orleans Rheims, Friction: Fire (1997)
  • In The Last Chamber (1997) (cowritten with Barry N. Malzberg and collected in Mike Resnick's alternate history anthology Alternate Tyrants)
  • Bondage (1998)
  • Becoming Charise (2000)
  • Jackson's Novelties (2000)
  • The Doctrine of Color (2000)
  • At Eventide (2000)
  • What We Did That Summer (2001)
  • Road Trip (2002)
  • Remnants (2002)
  • Lupe (2003)
  • Velocity (2003)
  • Anna Lee (2004)
  • Ruby Tuesday (2005)
  • Fireflies (2006)
  • Myths & Legends (2006)
  • Far & We (2008)
  • Clod Pebble (2010)
  • Toujours (2011)
  • La Reine D'Enfer (2013)
  • KIT: Some Assembly Required (2016)[14]


  1. ^ Steffen Hantke, "Kathe Koja" in: Richard Bleiler, Ed. Supernatural Fiction Writers: Contemporary Fantasy and Horror. New York: Thomson/Gale, 2003. p. 541-550. ISBN 9780684312507
  2. ^ "Novels & Stories | Writing about writing". Kathe Koja. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
  3. ^ a b c d "DarkEcho Interview: KATHE KOJA (1998)". www.darkecho.com. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
  4. ^ a b c S. Kay Elmore (1998). "The SF Site Featured Review: Extremities". Sfsite.com. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
  5. ^ a b "Kathe Koja | Authors | Macmillan". US Macmillan. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
  6. ^ a b c Koja, Kathe. "Kathe Koja | Authors | Macmillan". Us.macmillan.com. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
  7. ^ [1] Archived December 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Michigan Writers Series". Michigan State University Libraries. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
  9. ^ http://www.freep.com/story/entertainment/arts/2014/10/22/ferndale-theater-halloween/17683097/. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Kathe Koja (1960-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights". biography.jrank.org. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
  11. ^ "Women in Horror Month - Interview with Kathe Koja - Horror Writers Association BlogHorror Writers Association Blog". horror.org. 2017-02-04. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
  12. ^ 17, Matt Barbour // September; Reply, 2014 at 3:53 pm // (2014-09-16). "[Interview] Kathe Koja Talks Winning the Bram Stoker Award, 'Night of the Living Dead' and Her New Collection 'Velocities'". Horror Novel Reviews. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
  13. ^ "The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Literary Nominees". Locus Magazine. Archived from the original on 2012-10-16. Retrieved 2013-05-21.
  14. ^ "Summary Bibliography: Kathe Koja". www.isfdb.org. Retrieved 2017-04-26.

External links[edit]