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Karen Russell Books In Order

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Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Swamplandia! (2011)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Short Stories/Novellas

Sleep Donation (2014)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Stag (2022)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Collections

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2005)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Vampires in the Lemon Grove (2013)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Orange World and Other Stories (2019)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Karen Russell
Karen Russell was born July 10, 1981 in Miami, Florida, where she grew up. After graduating from Coral Gables Senior High School in Miami, Florida in the year 1999. She graduated summa cum laude from Northwestern University, getting her BA in Spanish, and got her MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts.

She lives with her husband, editor Tony Perez, and their two children. Kent Russell, her brother, is also a writer.

Her stories have been featured in The New Yorker, Zoetrope, The Best American Short Stories, Conjunctions, Oxford American, and Granta.

One reason she is so drawn to the Floridian landscapes of her childhood is because she has such deep sensory memories of climbing into the mangroves, exploring all of the mucky canals near their house, and wading through the bay. The air is so humid in Florida that it is like this continuous embrace, and water is everywhere, oozing up out of the ground and hovering in the clouds. Moving through these overgrown and slippery places, you just cannot forget you’re a part of nature.

She once loved collecting shells with her grandma after some big storm. And her family spent a ton of time in the Everglades. When she was a kid she thinks that contact shaped her rather profoundly. Its a state where sinkholes will swallow up houses, where the water and the land aren’t ever stable categories. The porosity of the state meant that she loved tales that floated somewhere between the poles of “reality” and “fantasy”.

Karen was unable to write about childhood until she had graduated college, nor could she write about Florida until she had made her way out of the peninsula. She finds that she usually draws on things from the past, conjugated events.

While Karen was researching for “Swamplandia!”, Louis Thanksgiving appeared. It was while she was reading these diaries of Florida pioneers from early in the twentieth century. She saw the word ‘dredgeman’ and got this little chill. She learned that dredges were these barges with dippers and cranes that were used to dig roads and canals through Florida’s impenetrably swampy interior.

It wasn’t long after she read how land barons would buy up millions of acres of Florida swampland, hoping to drain the entire swamp to expose the arable soil of ‘An American Eden’ that a haunted dredge barge crashed into her novel.

While Louis Thanksgiving’s chapter was excerpted and tailored a little, it wasn’t ever intended to live outside of the book, and it grew quite organically from one of Ossie’s paranormal escapades. Karen’s always loved stories-within-the-story, and she was hoping that the Louis chapter, which is a radical departure from the rest of the book, might act like a mirror. As this spot that readers could see some things in superimposition, like Osceola’s horror and grief at her mom’s early death, her hunger, which manifests as a stillborn romance with a dead kid.

All of the seeds for the novel are contained in a short story she wrote called “Ava Wrestles the Alligator”, about these two sisters on a swamp island mourning their mom’s death.

When she started the novel, she had a Big Picture, albeit a rather fuzzy one. She knew that Hilola Bigtree died of ovarian cancer, and that Osceola would elope with a ghost. However when she started, if she attempted to see the book as a whole, she felt as though she was flying over the entire thing, with more of the finer print of the Bigtrees’ story getting worked out during the actual drafting and this is where she met Louis Thanksgiving.

“Swamplandia!” was long listed for a 2011 Orange Prize, and was included in The New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2011. It won the New York Public Library’s 2012 Young Lions Fiction Award. The book was also a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but no prize ended up being awarded.

“The Hox River Window” won the 2012 National Magazine Award for fiction. “Reeling for the Empire” won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novelette of 2012. she has received the Mary Ellen von der Heyden Berlin Prize and was awarded a fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin for Spring of 2012. In 2013, she received a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant”.

In the year 2010, she spent time as a visiting writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Later she served as an artist in residence at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York. In the fall of 2013, she was a distinguished guest teacher of creative writing at the MFA program at Rutgers University-Camden. Starting in 2017, she was the Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at Texas State University’s MFA program.

“Swamplandia!” is the first stand alone novel and was released in the year 2011. The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline, think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades. And Swamplandia!, their gator-wrestling theme park and island home, is quickly getting encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor that is known as the “World of Darkness”.

Ava, who is a horrified yet resourceful twelve year old, has to manage seventy gators as well as the inscrutable and vast landscape of her own grief. Her mom, the legendary headliner of Swamplandia!, has recently died; while her sister’s having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat, and her dad is AWOL.

In order to save her family, Ava has to journey all by herself to some perilous section of the swamp known as the “Underworld”, which is a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges from a true heroine.

Readers found this to be original, brilliant, and funny, yet also sinister and creepy. Karen delivers a wonderfully fertile novel and refuses to leave their minds. This is a weird and fascinating book that slowly hooked readers and before long, they were hooked and didn’t want to put it down. Karen’s an excellent writer. Karen’s writing is sublime in quite a wonderful novel, which features compelling and well developed characters.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Karen Russell

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