The short story “Cat Person” has gone viral again, after a fellow writer published an article in Slate claiming to be the original person upon whom the story is based.
In 2017, “Cat Person” – by previously unknown writer Kristen Roupenian – became the first work of short fiction to go viral after being published in the New Yorker.
It detailed the story of a young woman, Margot, and her relationship with an older man who she finds repulsive. She eventually ghosts him, and he sends her a text calling her a “whore”.
The piece sparked mass debate about themes of consent and modern relationships.
In the Slate article, Alexis Nowicki said she came out of a cinema in 2017 to find her phone receiving dozens of messages from friends and acquaintances, asking if the newly published “Cat Person” was about her.
She said that many of the details in “Cat Person” matched her own life, along with the early stages of her relationship with a man she called “Charles”.
The protagonist in “Cat Person” came from the same small town as her, went to the same college and worked at the same art house theatre. The man in the story, like “Charles”, was “tall, slightly overweight, with a tattoo on his shoulder” and wore a “rabbit fur hat and a vintage coat”.
However, Nowicki wrote that her experience of the relationship was different and said “Charles” could be “respectful and caring”, before his sudden death in November last year.
Nowicki said she contacted Roupenian to find out what had taken place, and was told that Roupenian had “an encounter” with the real-life “Charles” where she learnt he was dating a much younger woman (Nowicki).
She said she then mined Nowicki’s social media for many of the details she used in her story.
“In retrospect, I was wrong not to go back and remove those biographical details, especially the name of the town. Not doing so was careless,” Roupenian told Nowicki.
Just as “Cat Person” started a debate around consent, Nowicki’s account prompted a discussion on social media about the use of real-life events and people in works of fiction.
“This phase of Cat Person discourse proves it’s not enough just to avoid dating writers. No one is ever safe as long as writers live among you,” writer Joe Berkowitz joked.
Others were discomfited by the news that “Charles” had died, while many defended both Roupenian and Nowicki, instead blaming social media for creating a “scandal” where there was none.
“Cannot believe media losers spent all morning debating who really owns the cat person story while not mentioning that the titular cat person DIED,” Sara David wrote.
“Don’t think Roupernian did anything wrong but ‘Cat Person was real and by all accounts a nice and normal guy’ is the funniest possible outcome to literally years of discourse,” another reader tweeted.
“My main takeaway from the cat person “scandal” is it is not a scandal, no one is being cancelled,,,,, it is an interesting public conversation about art!” said author Dana Schwartz.
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