Congratulations on realizing your dream of becoming a published author. How does it feel?
It feels surreal. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in primary school—but I never thought it was a realistic goal, so I set my sights of being a lawyer instead. When I got the opportunity to write this book, it didn’t feel real. Sometimes it still doesn’t.
In Post Grad, you follow four of your college classmates as they navigate life after graduation. How would you describe the book to a recent grad?
Post Grad gives an honest account of what it’s like to leave college and begin the rest of your life. It’s about losing the school community that’s surrounded you for 20 years, and building a new community, all on your own, for the first time.
One of the five stories followed in Post Grad is your own, which you originally had not planned on including. Was there anything unexpected you learned about your own experiences during this process?
Absolutely! When I started writing this book, I had no idea what the first year out of college would bring. I knew I was going to write a book and live in Washington, DC—but I hadn’t given my day-to-day a whole lot of thought. I realized pretty quickly that the year was going to be much more difficult (read: lonely and disorienting) than I’d ever expected.
Community (or the lack thereof) plays a large role in these women’s lives. Why do you think recent grads should or should not take this into consideration when making future plans?
Of all the changes that happened after we graduated, the sudden loss of community hit us hardest. Senior year, we’d spent so much time aggravating over our careers—and our first post-college jobs—that we hadn’t given much thought to what it would be like to move away from all of our friends and mentors. Most of us felt more alone than we ever had before. When seniors are deciding where to go and what to do after graduation, I think that’s something to consider. You’re going to miss being around people. That definitely shouldn’t make you change your plans, but be ready for those feelings.
What did your writing process look like? Did you approach your research in a specific way or have a concrete idea in mind when you sat down to write?
I spent one year finding the women I wanted to follow, one year reporting their stories, and one year writing. The biggest challenge was organizing all of my research. I transcribed hundreds of hours of recordings—then I had to organize all of that information so it would be easy to access when I sat down to write particular sections. I knew I wanted to write the book chronologically—from graduation to our first year reunion—so, as much as possible, I organized my notes around particular months. What happened in August? What happened in September?
Your degree, History and Gender and Sexuality Studies, is less mainstream than finance or business degrees. What would you say to others who want to pursue more nuanced studies?
Do it! I chose my college major based on what I wanted to write my senior thesis about: college sexual assault. That topic became my “beat" . . . knowing so much about one very specific thing allowed me to write about it for news outlets while I was still in college.
Though targeted to recent graduates, what insights do you think someone who hasn't recently graduated from college could gain by reading Post Grad?
I think the book has a lot to say to parents. I was surprised by how large of a role parents played in the first year out of college. We needed them—in ways we didn’t expect. By reading about our experiences with our parents, I think parents of recent grads can gain some insight into navigating those relationships after graduation.
Who are some of your favorite female authors and/or books that inspire you?
So many! Some of my latest favorites are Katherine Boo (Behind the Beautiful Forevers), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Americanah and Purple Hibiscus), and Angela Palm (Riverine).
Caroline Kitchener graduated from Princeton in 2014 with a degree in History and Gender and Sexuality Studies. Her work has appeared in Vogue, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Vox, The Guardian, and The Daily Beast. She lives in Washington, DC with her partner and her two cats.