Dr. Klien, who taught at Washington- and Boston-area colleges, arrived late to the field of academia, after a difficult and adventurous youth. Her college education was interrupted by a grueling round of treatment for a rare form of bone cancer. She then became a trekking guide in the snow-covered Cordillera Blanca mountain range of the Peruvian Andes and wed Bennett, an American foreign correspondent who had been based in Lima.
While pursuing a doctorate in literature at Boston University in the 1990s, she taught at BU as well as Simmons and Tufts universities. She settled in the Washington area in 1997, when her husband joined The Post as an editor, and soon became a visiting professor at Georgetown University’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009 and, two years later, left the Georgetown faculty to return to the Boston area for more-aggressive treatment. She taught Spanish language, literature and culture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Wellesley College but had to stop working full time in 2015, after which she led classes in English for Speakers of Other Languages at Cambridge’s Central Square Public Library.
In large part because of her struggle with illness, she saw the classroom less as a forum for a preordained curriculum than as an environment where people could share of themselves and connect with others.
In an unpublished essay, she wrote scathingly of her experiences in university life, with its manicured campuses populated by children of privilege and a system designed to coddle them.
“I was appalled,” Dr. Klien wrote, “by the demands of the spoiled and the obsession with grades, appalled by a system of overempowered students and professors eager to please them no matter what, appalled by the constant departmental bickering . . . and a demeaning of the whole process of transferring knowledge to a new generation.”
She described her final job, as an ESOL instructor, as her most rewarding. The classrooms were makeshift, with fold-up chairs in bunkerlike rooms, but welcomed students from Brazil, Italy and China who were striving to master the quirks of the English language — such as how the phrase “make up” can refer to cosmetics, repairing a relationship after a disagreement or creating a story.
“I feel alive, connected to these people who give thanks after every class without knowing I am a volunteer, who probe into my personal life in surprising ways,” she wrote. “I feel connected to them by the purest form of transmission, without all the constraints that many American higher education institutions have fallen into. Yes, yes, I give these students a little. I wonder if they know how much they give me.”
María Mónica Cecilia Patricia Consuelo Klien Samanez was born in Lima, Peru, on July 18, 1958, the only daughter among six children. Her father was an agronomist, and her mother was a homemaker who also sold commercial real estate.
She was attending Arizona State University when she took a year abroad, at 19, to study in Grenoble, France. She fell ill and was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, then spent the next two years at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
She received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Arizona State in 1986 and a master’s degree in liberal arts in 1993 from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, known by its Spanish initials UNAM. She completed a doctorate in literature at BU in 2000 and developed a specialty in colonial literature of Latin America and the theory and practice of literary translation.
She met her future husband in 1982, when he was working as a reporter for the Lima Times, and they married in 1987.
She accompanied him on his postings as a foreign correspondent for the Boston Globe before he arrived at The Post in 1997 as national security editor. He was assistant managing editor for foreign news before serving as managing editor, second-in-command of the newsroom, from 2004 to 2009.
She is survived by her husband, a professor of public policy studies and journalism at Duke University and a top editor for the PBS series “Frontline,” a daughter, Alejandra Bennett Katz, both of Cambridge; and two brothers.
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