MacArthur Fellows Program

Karen Russell

Fiction Writer | Class of 2013

Blending fantastical elements with psychological realism to construct wildly imaginative settings and characters in tales of transformation and redemption.

Fiction Writer
New York, New York
32 at time of award
Published September 25, 2013

About Karen's Work

Karen Russell is a fiction writer whose haunting yet comic tales blend fantastical elements with psychological realism and classic themes of transformation and redemption. Setting much of her work in the Everglades of her native Florida, she depicts in lyrical, energetic prose an enchanting and forbidding landscape and delves into subcultures rarely encountered in contemporary American literature.

The vividly realized stories in her debut collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2006), revolve around a cast of adolescents, often parentless, caught between the worlds of childhood and adulthood, wilderness and civilization, island and mainland, the living and the dead. In her novel Swamplandia! (2011), Russell revisits and expands on the opening story of her earlier collection, “Ava Wrestles the Alligator,” to explore the intricacies and consequences of a family’s grief following the death of their matriarch. Narrated primarily by its thirteen-year-old protagonist, Ava, the novel weaves together a chilling odyssey into a swampland netherworld; lush descriptions of the flora, fauna, and history of the Everglades region; and profound observations about human nature in the face of irreparable loss.

Russell’s recently published collection of stories, Vampires in the Lemon Grove (2013), navigates new and diverse terrain, from a nineteenth-century silk factory in Japan, to a drought-ravaged homesteader settlement on the plains of Nebraska, to the traumatic memories of an Iraq War veteran. Through the wildly inventive premises of these and other stories, Russell is widening the scope of her already far-reaching and distinctive imagination.


Karen Russell received a B.A. (2003) from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. (2006) from Columbia University. Her short stories have appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Granta, Zoetrope, and Oxford American. She was a fellow at the Cullman Center (2010) and at the American Academy of Berlin (2012), and she has taught writing and literature at Columbia University (2006–2009), Williams College (2009), Bard College (2011), Bryn Mawr College (2012), and the University of Rutgers, Camden (2013).

Select News Coverage of Karen Russell
June 10, 2019
"Karen Russell Conjures Deep-Seated Fears in ‘Orange World’"
Atlanta Journal Constitution
Karen Russell, 2013 MacArthur Fellow
May 18, 2019
"Short Stories in 'Orange World'"
Karen Russell, 2013 MacArthur Fellow
May 29, 2018
"Karen Russell Reads “Orange World”"
The New Yorker
Karen Russell, 2013 MacArthur Fellow
April 21, 2017
"Karen Russell's Resistance Reading"
Mother Jones
Karen Russell, 2013 MacArthur Fellow
October 1, 2015
"10 Ingenious Books By Certifiable Geniuses"
The Huffington Post
Sandra Cisneros , 1995 MacArthur Fellow
Lydia Davis , 2003 MacArthur Fellow
Jonathan Lethem , 2005 MacArthur Fellow
George Saunders , 2006 MacArthur Fellow
Chimamanda Adichie, 2008 MacArthur Fellow
Junot Díaz, 2012 MacArthur Fellow
Karen Russell, 2013 MacArthur Fellow
Alison Bechdel, 2014 MacArthur Fellow
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ben Lerner, 2015 MacArthur Fellows
August 6, 2015
"Bookshelf: “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell"
Coast Weekend
Karen Russell, 2013 MacArthur Fellow
June 8, 2015
"The Prospectors"
The New Yorker
Karen Russell, 2013 MacArthur Fellow
April 9, 2015
"Karen Russell interviews Kent Russell"
Karen Russell, 2013 MacArthur Fellow
View all news

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