Keija Parssinen graduated cum laude from Princeton University, where she studied English literature and received a certificate from the Program for the Study of Women and Gender. She earned her MFA at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote fellow, a Teaching and Writing fellow, and the student editor of the Iowa Short Fiction contest. After finishing the program, she won a Michener-Copernicus award for her debut novel, The Ruins of Us, which was published in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Italy and around the Middle East. The novel was long-listed for the Chautauqua Prize and was selected as a Best Book of the Middle East Region by Turkey’s Today’s Zaman newspaper.
Her second novel, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, won an Alex Award from the American Library Association, and was selected as a Best Book of the Year by the Kansas City Star, Lone Star Literary Life, Missouri Life, and Brazos Bookstore. In 2014, Keija was a Visiting Professor of fiction writing at Louisiana State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Lonely Planet travel-writing anthologies, The Brooklyn Quarterly, Slice Magazine, Salon, Five Chapters, the New Delta Review, Marie Claire, This Land, Off Assignment, and elsewhere. Her work has been supported by fellowships and residencies from the Corporation of Yaddo, the Vermont Studio Center, Playa Summerlake, the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities, and the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow, where she was a My Time Fellow.
Keija was born in Saudi Arabia and lived there for twelve years before her family moved to Austin, Texas. In many ways, the move was a return to the family’s roots: Keija’s maternal great-great-grandfather, John Briggs, originally of San Antonio, was a scout for the U.S. Cavalry in Ft. Davis, Texas. Her grandmother, Willette, was born in Marfa and raised in El Paso, where her father, William, was the president of the Southern Pacific railroad workers’ union. A few years after Willette’s birth, William was killed in an accident at the El Paso rail yards. His funeral was the largest ever held in El Paso up to that point.
In Texas, Keija discovered Tex-Mex, Willie Nelson, and basketball. She played competitively throughout middle and high school, spending many hours on buses traveling the blue highways of Texas to play in gymnasiums that all, inevitably, smelled the same: like Frito pie and cleaning solvent. In many ways, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis is a tribute to all the badass girls she met on that journey: her coaches, the ones on her team, and the few Mercys she played against, the ferocious girls who left her awe-struck as they lit up the scoreboard, as they owned the court, the day, the season, the town.
Keija is the Director of Cedar Crest College’s Pan-European MFA program, as well as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Tulsa. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and sons.