Citizen of the World, Poet, Writer of Other Things
Karen's life has been a series of firsts. In High School, at a time when no woman's varsity team was given funding, she was one of the first to play nationally on a men's tennis team, a radical move which helped to establish Title IX. In college she developed a large record collection, and became known for winning a bet where she ate ten hot fudge sundays in exchange for another student's rare jazz collection. After college, she was one of only a few women nationally to be writing about jazz and salsa in the major metropolitan market of New York City, publishing in Latin NY magazine and the Soho Weekly News. During this period, she met Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, whose enthusiasm for the new field of electronic music inspired her to become interested in the art of recording. After calling almost every studio in New York for an apprenticeship and being repeatedly turned down, she finally found a studio who would train her. In addition to a woman working on the West Coast, Karen became one of America's first women recording engineers and record producers, later going on to work for Chappell Music/Polygram and earning two gold records. At age 30, a chance meeting with a combat photojournalist led her to leave behind what was the endless sexism of the music business for the camaraderie of overseas journalism, and she became a combat photojournalist, only one of five women in the world. During that time, in 1988 she was the first to report on the translocation of the endangered rhino in Zimbabwe for WCS, and in 1989 she was the first Western print journalist to go into the jungles of Myanmar and interview General Khun Sa, the King of the Opium Trade, a piece which ran in People magazine in June 1990.
After a series of injuries, later in life she designed educational video games, one which taught physics to kids and the other which was the first cognitive rehab game for patients with traumatic brain injury. She is now focusing on a literary career which will stand as her final legacy.
Karen Petersen's poems, short stories, and flash have appeared in a variety of national and international literary magazines and anthologies. Her poems have been translated into Persian and Spanish. She has read at the KGB Bar in NYC, Teatro Paraguas, the Santa Fe Public Library, and the Yeats Festival in Santa Fe. She was also responsible for "The Badlands are Everywhere" evening honoring Malpais Review and editor Gary Brower, at Teatro Paraguas in 2017, and for co-organizing and participating in the "All-Star Poetry Reading" at the Center for Progress and Justice in Santa Fe in 2018. In 2019 she was one of the judges and participants in the Santa Fe Telepoem Booth, a national poetry/art installation project. In 2020 she was asked to be one of the state judges in the National Poetry Out Loud competition created by the NEA and Poetry Foundation.
As a photojournalist and foreign correspondent, Karen had assignments for The New York Times, Newsweek, Harper's, The Nation, People, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Forward, German GEO, Wildlife Conservation, The Universal Press Syndicate, Hortus, The London Daily Telegraph, The Times of London, Rolling Stone, U.S. News & World Report, Travel & Leisure, Scholastic, Unicef, UNDP, USIA and the World Bank.
In addition to receiving a PEN American Writer's Grant, in 2019 Karen Petersen was the first person in the history of the Pushcart Prize to receive five nominations in all three categories of poetry, short story, and flash. She was also nominated that year by Amos Greig, the editor of the Northern Ireland publication A New Ulster, for the UK Forward Prize and the Saboteur Prize.
In public High School, Karen Petersen was a member of the National Honor Society, the Features Editor of the school newspaper, a Mathlete, and a Regents scholar. She worked her way through college and holds a B.A. from Vassar College, where she majored in Philosophy and Classics and was awarded the James Ryland and Georgia A. Kendrick Fellowship for graduate study. Her M.S. is in Environmental Policy from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
Karen has a Media Collection of 800 domestic and international films, 3,000 records, and numerous video games. She collects African and Oceanic tribal art, Chinese snuff bottles, and is also a gardener and plant explorer who gathered seeds in Africa for the NYBG. Her African Photography is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Museum.
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