Professor Kathleen Ahrens was born in the suburbs of New York City and aspired to be an astronaut and to live in a skyscraper. Poor eyesight led her to forgo the first dream, but her move to Hong Kong allowed her to finally fulfill the second.
As a child, she read constantly — often in very dim lighting — leading to her poor eyesight, and she could often be found with a book in one hand and a dictionary in another, now clear precursors of her love of both literature and language. Her favorite subject in high school was Latin, but her aptitude in math led her to enter UMASS/Amherst as a computer science major, later switching to a degree in Oriental Languages after she grew bored writing computer programs that mimicked war scenarios.
While in college, she spent a year abroad in Taiwan, teaching English and studying Mandarin Chinese. After graduation, she returned to Taiwan to teach English and to study for her Master’s Degree in Chinese at National Taiwan University, undertaking her first corpus-based analysis when she analyzed the verbal agreement of all pronominal affixes found in a document written in the Tibeto-Burman language of Tangut.
As a Master’s and Doctoral student at UC San Diego, she focused on understanding the time course involved in argument role integration using multi-modal on-line reaction time studies. Later, while working in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature and the Graduate Institute of Linguistics at National Taiwan University, she set up the first sentence processing laboratory in Taiwan and focused on issues in lexical ambiguity resolution and conceptual metaphor processing. She received university-level awards for both research and teaching during her time at National Taiwan University.
In addition, while teaching English and Linguistics at National Taiwan University, she was invited to write short stories for secondary school textbooks and she found that she enjoyed creative writing immensely. As part of knowledge transfer and service to the community, in 2001 she founded the Taiwan region for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which is a professional society with over 70 regions and 20,000 members world-wide. She was invited to be member of the advisory board and the Chairperson for all international regions in SCBWI in 2008.
That same year, she joined Hong Kong Baptist University as Professor and Head of the Language Centre. In 2012, she became the Director of the International Writers Workshop at HKBU and she was invited to be the Programme Director for International Poetry Nights Hong Kong in 2013. She left HKBU to join the Department of English at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in early 2017, where she is now working on multiple research grants related to understanding metaphors in political language.
Professor Ahrens is a Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of Humanities, and lectures around the world, on issues related to sentence processing and conceptual metaphor theory, as well as on picture book evaluation, the use of children’s literature in language teaching, and creative writing.