Take Five with Katya Apekina ’05



Katya Apekina ’05 is the author of the novel The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish (Two Dollar Radio, 2018), which is a First Fiction finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize, won the “35 Over 35 Award” and was named a Best Book of 2018 by Kirkus Reviews, BuzzFeed, Entropy, LitReactor and Literary Hub. In addition, Apekina’s debut was listed as a Most Anticipated Book by New York Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Publishers Weekly, Bustle, Fast Company and others. Apekina also is a translator, journalist and screenwriter. Born in Moscow, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband, journalist David Weinberg, and their daughter.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I thought I would be a photographer and I was always setting up these elaborate photos in the dorms, weird stuff — we’d climb onto the roof in the shaft and I would photograph my friends having a picnic, or sharpen a bunch of pencils and make my friends roll their faces in the shavings, or crawl out of an old trunk that I’d found discarded on the side of the road. It was fun, but definitely very elaborate, and difficult to wrangle everyone into position. I think my friends were relieved when I switched to writing and stopped photographing them.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I lived in John Jay! I remember there were a lot of characters on my floor, Central Casting-type stuff. Future news anchors, foreign royalty, eccentrics with their plumage on full display. My next-door neighbor was always listening to Britney Spears, and you could hear him in there, singing in a falsetto, thumping furniture — anytime you knocked on his door, he’d answer out of breath. He’s one of my closest friends to this day, and the reason I became a writer.

What class do you most remember and why?

I hadn’t known I wanted to be a writer until I took the writing workshops. Leslie Woodard GS’94 directed the program, and she was so warm and supportive. I am still in touch with Joanna Hershon SOA’99, my fiction writing professor. I also took an amazing lit seminar with Mary Gordon at Barnard — she introduced me to a lot of writers I still love — and a contemporary fiction class with Bruce Robbins. I started off as a film major, and the movies I saw in the documentary film lecture have stayed with me, too. I loved that we were encouraged to study so widely — I probably would never have taken those neuroscience courses if there wasn’t a science requirement, but I’m glad I did.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

I remember when it was spring and unseasonably warm, everyone would be out on the patch of grass by John Jay — someone had even dragged a couch out there. I remember how we’d all sit in loose circles, talking and laughing, and the way everyone would scatter when the sprinklers came on.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

My personal regrets are always along the lines of: I wish I had been more present, less afraid of appearing foolish, less judgmental of myself and everyone else, more open to all the amazing stuff that was being offered to me. Being in New York was magical and I got to do so many things off campus, but I wish I had spent a little more time on campus. I also never studied abroad, and that could have been interesting.