Author Profile

Karen Bender

Karen Bender

Karen Bender is the author of the story collection Refund, a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction, shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize, and a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Bender is also the author of the novels Like Normal People, a selection of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program, as well as an LA Times Bestseller and a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and A Town of Empty Rooms.

Her short fiction has appeared in magazines including The New Yorker, Granta, Ploughshares, Zoetrope, Story, Narrative, The Harvard Review, Guernica, and The Iowa Review. Her stories have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories, and New Stories from the South and won two Pushcart Prizes. 

A Distinguished Visiting Writer at Hollins University for 2015-2016, Bender has also taught creative writing at Tunghai University in Taiwan, the MFA programs at Antioch Los Angeles, Chatham University, the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and at the Iowa Summer Writer's Festival.

Her latest book, The New Order, is a collection of stories that examines the sense of instability that has grown stronger in American culture in recent years through the increasing presence of violence, bigotry, sexual harassment, and the emotional costs of living under constant threat. She’s also the Fiction editor of the Scoundrel Time, a site dedicated to combatting the greed and fear of America’s current political and cultural climate, through literary activism.

Karen Bender grew up in Los Angeles, and has also lived in New York and Iowa City, where she went to the Iowa Writer's Workshop, where she met husband, novelist Robert Anthony Siegel. They live in Wilmington, North Carolina, with their two children. Her hobbies include cooking (messily) and running (slowly). When she's feeling brave, Karen plays cello with an unnamed but enthusiastic trio at her local synagogue.

"Karen Bender speaks in a voice that is both wise and witty. As one of her listeners, I did not want to miss a single word of her well-crafted presentation."
-- Dr. Maggie Parish, AAUW Wilmington

"As a writer, Karen Bender is unquestionably resplendent. What you might not know is she equally glows as a speaker and reader. Erudite, humorous, generous, she has insights galore to share not only on the writer's craft and process, but on what it means to be an observant and engaged citizen through one's art. Her "The Octopus Moment" lecture alone should be trademarked! Our MFA students at Chatham University are still quoting her left and right. Grab her now!"
-- Marc Nieson, Professor, Chatham University MFA program

"Karen Bender engages her audiences by sharing her personal experiences and then reflecting on them with wisdom . She explores what it means to be human and in doing so reveals her own humanity."
-- Barbara Waxman, Professor, University of North Carolina, Wilmington

For more about Karen and her works, go to

Reviews of Refund: Stories

Money is ostensibly the fuel that powers Karen E. Bender's new collection, Refund..., but Bender's subtler preoccupation is the eroding effect of emotional want... Bender understands and writes about marriage and emotional need.
-- The New York Times Book Review,

The tales told in Karen Bender's Refund, a collection of stories that centers on money and family, are exquisitely composed portraits of modern life, and chances are you will encounter characters that remind you a little or a lot of yourself. That's the brilliance of Bender's storytelling... Bender's ability to transform observations of life into uncomfortably realistic stories cannot be denied.
-- The Chicago Tribune,

These Stories are among the best short fiction I've read in a generation. From the chains of straw and coins and angels that bind us to earth, Bender weaves not only gold, but the rings of Saturn.
-- Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean

[Bender] writes with such nuance about anxiety, security, politics and family, and demonstrates utter compassion for every one of her characters. This gorgeous and urgent book will stay with me for a long time.
-- Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans: Stories

Videos featuring Karen Bender

Jeffrey Brown at the Miami Book Fair for the PBS show Book View Now