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Book makes for good couch time

Erica Kates's journey to the publication of her well-received anthology, On the Couch: Stories About Therapy, began with two simple questions: How do ordinary people act when they're in therapy? And, how do therapists act in ordinary life?

"I was intensely curious," said Ms. Kates, administrative assistant to John S. Wilson, director of the Office of Foundation Relations. "I had family members who were therapists and therapists who had been extremely influential in my life, and I wondered about both."

After two years of detective work worthy of Sigmund Freud himself, Kates tracked down an impressive and varied selection of fiction written about the therapeutic encounter.

She called her favorite writers and asked them if they had ever written anything about therapy. Those writers recommended more writers. She wrote Daniel Menaker, author of Influenza, one of her collection's greatest hits, and he helped her find an agent, a publisher and, yes, more contacts.

The result--a collection of longish short stories by authors including John Updike, Amy Bloom, Lawrence Block, Stephen McCauley and Lynne Sharon Schwartz--has been enthusiastically reviewed in Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus and many local newspapers. Christopher Lydon discussed On the Couch on his National Public Radio show, "The Connection." It is being heavily promoted at psychoanalytic conferences. Atlantic Monthly Press has sold 4,000 of the 6,000 volumes printed.

Now hard at work on a novel, Ms. Kates begins her writing day as she did with On the Couch--at 5am. "It has to be first thing," she says. "Once I enter the world, it's all over."

Ms. Kates grew up in San Francisco and attended Brandeis University and Boston College. She worked as an editor at Houghton Mifflin and Simon and Schuster and was also a fifth-grade teacher before coming to MIT in September 1996.

With On the Couch selling well, she laughs at a question that might consume thousands of therapy hours:

"Coincidentally or not, at age 28 I stopped going to therapy and started writing this book. Hmmm."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 30, 1997.

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