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Karen Russell

Author of the acclaimed bestseller Swamplandia! and Orange World

Karen Russell AWP 2015 Keynote Address
  • About Karen Russell

    Karen Russell’s debut novel, Swamplandia!, was chosen by The New York Times as one of the Ten Best Books of 2011, long-listed for The Orange Prize, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Russell has been featured in The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 list, and was chosen as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. In 2009, she received the 5 Under 35 award from the National Book Foundation. In 2013 she was named a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” the youngest of the year’s 24 winners. Her latest book, Orange World, is a stunning new collection of short fiction that showcases Karen Russell’s extraordinary, irresistible gifts of language and imagination.

    Russell is a captivating speaker who has appeared at venues like the Savannah College of Art & Design and the Free Library of Philadelphia. Formerly a writer-in-residence at Bard College and Bryn Mawr College, she is the recipient of the Mary Ellen von der Heyden Berlin Prize and was awarded a fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin.

    Russell is also the author of the celebrated short story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves . Her collection of short stories Vampires in the Lemon Grove was published by Knopf in 2013. Russell received her B.A. from Northwestern University in 2003, and her MFA from Columbia University in 2006.

  • Speaking Topics


    An Evening with Karen Russell

  • Video

  • Praise for Karen Russell


    Karen’s visit was a tremendous success from all angles. Karen’s attentive generosity with students–the time she spent with them at the book signing; her graciousness in handling some difficult questions from our younger, more politically active undergrads–was remarkable. Many of them had been assigned her work in classes, leading up to her visit, and it was clear that she won not only new admirers but hardcore fans. She is GREAT with undergraduates and I would recommend her highly for any colleges and universities looking to inspire their budding writers.

    Emerson College

    Our experience with Karen Russell was lovely from start to end. Karen was hugely generous with her time (we had a lovely dinner with her on arrival to Colorado Springs, CO and she was welcoming to every person that approached after the lecture for a signed book). Our project has an ambitious theme: moral beauty. Karen Russell took on the theme with real intention. Her lecture was thoughtful, well delivered, and featured poetic turns of phrase and impressive argument. Notably, Karen was kind to our whole team – it felt like she really saw all the work that we are doing and made space to celebrate our wins.

    Converge Lecture Series

    Karen Russell was adored by all. She is magnificent. She’s kind and funny and generous and unassuming and smart and game and willing to speak with students. All I have is praise.

    Hofstra University

    Karen was marvelous. Such a joy to work with. She did an amazing visit at the school and really engaged the students. Her reading and conversation were fantastic. She held the audience rapt and the book signing was great.

    Lannan Foundation

    It was a HUGE success. Karen was utterly delightful and gracious.  She signed a lot of books and talked with every single person who handed her a book. It was amazing.

    University of Missouri

    Our audience is discerning about the content of the authors’ talk and what was especially appreciated about Karen’s was that it was original, and felt appropriate, personal and serious to our attendees, as well as whimsical and humorous. My personal take was she was like a rock star! After the lecture and Q&A some audience members rushed the stage to ask her questions. Karen sat on the stage, feet dangling and proceeded to have a conversation with them; very sweet and engaging! I have never witnessed that happening before and I have attended many lectures over SAL’s 25 years! Karen’s appearance the following day at Sealth High School was equally successful. The students loved her and soaked up every word.

    Seattle Arts & Lectures

    The event went wonderfully. Karen was hilarious. She was gracious and open with students and it was a thrill for me to get to know her better. Since I’ve been here (last five years) it was the best-attended event we have had for a visiting writer. Really was a pleasure having her here!

    Wabash College

    Karen Russell was amazing—funny and smart and insightful. She’s so warm and engaging that our students forgot they were talking with a writer they’ve read and admired since her debut story and collection. You should be besieged with requests for this one-of-a-kind writer and wonderful person.

    Purdue University

    Praise for Sleep Donation

    [Written] with Twilight Zone-like inventiveness and the energy and brio of a natural fantasist with a proclivity for blending the real and surreal, the psychological and the sci-fi. . . . [Russell] creates a fully imagined world with its own rituals and rules, and deftly satirizes the media and governmental responses to the plague of sleeplessness. . . . Another testament to her fertile powers of invention.

    Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times Book Review

    A starkly dystopian novella reminiscent of George Saunders in its bleak humor, the directness of its prose.

    Los Angeles Times

    Russell wrote Sleep Donation over half a decade ago, yet her nightmarish vision of a nation keelhauled by an insomnia epidemic now registers as shockingly prescient. . . . [Russell has] the finest imagination in contemporary fiction. Sleep Donation is Russell at the height of her formidable powers, at once an eerie evocation of a country whose sins have come home to roost, as well as a deeply personal story of grief and terror.” —Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire

    Russell’s gift is to provide deep immersion in the details, and in Trish’s haunting, urgent emotions. . . . Russell offsets . . . expertly induced unease with humour and wry social commentary.

    The Guardian

    Wonderful. . . . Like George Saunders, Russell writes with a Swiftian sense of satire. . . . Russell has a keen sense of dramatic timing and an even sharper ability to turn an internal state into its own weather system.

    The Boston Globe

    A tense but captivating read, eerie in its prescience. . . . [A] philosophical meditation on dreams and consciousness, and a moving examination of love and empathy.


    The combination of Russell’s dazzling imagination and virtuosic prose adds up to pleasurable sensory overload.

    Entertainment Weekly

    Russell handles the extraordinary in a humorous manner. . . . Sleep Donation's magical realism flare makes it not your average dystopia.


    A tense but captivating read, eerie in its prescience. . . . [A] philosophical meditation on dreams and consciousness, and a moving examination of love and empathy.


    Russell specializes in creating fantastical worlds that hum with recognizable rhythms. She excels at marrying the commonplace with the extraordinary.

    Miami Herald

    Signature Russell: a fanciful, droll, elaborately thought-through allegory with a dark center. . . . Russell’s language . . . is acrid, luminous, and deft. . . . She will chase down every flicker of ordinary experience and return with descriptions of uncanny aptness. . . . Her sentences both resonate with familiarity and startle with beauty.


    Weird, hilarious, and brilliant.

    The Millions

    An audaciously allegorical novella. . . . As engaging as it is provocative.

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

    Praise for Orange World and Other Stories

    Amidst the leading pack of talents Karen Russell writes the most like she’s on fire, as in: this close to revelations. Orange World is her best collection yet. Her imagination’s baroque syntax has been planed down to the absolute essentials, allowing the power of her vision to speak for itself...This is prophetic work written with clarifying fury.

    John Freeman, LitHub

    Virtuoso Russell, gifted with acute insights, compassion, and a daring, free-diving imagination, explores the bewitching and bewildering dynamic between "the voracious appetite of nature and its yawning indifference" and humankind's relentless profligacy and obliviousness.

    Booklist [starred review]

    Eight crisp stories that will leave longtime fans hungry for more. Since her debut more than a decade ago, Russell has exhibited a commitment to turning recognizable worlds on their heads in prose so rich that sentences almost burst at the seams. Her third collection is no exception, and its subjects—forgotten pockets of violent American history, climate-related apocalypse, the trials of motherhood—feel fresh and urgent in her care...A momentous feat of storytelling in an already illustrious career.

    Kirkus Reviews [starred review]

    [A] brilliantly inventive... wonderful new collection of short stories...Russell grounds each story in human experience, both poignant and hilarious in turn... Underlying all of this is the exquisite beauty of Russell’s sentences, which will repeatedly surprise readers with their imagery and masterful language.


    Russell is a master of landscapes exterior and interior, with Orange World moving as deftly through a future Florida underwater as through 'that topography of the early weeks and months right after childbirth'... She has always used a phantasmagorical road map to chart her way through emotional terrain.

    Portland Monthly

    Is there a colorist in American fiction with the same vivid talents as Karen Russell?... Her stories read like a moon-lit fantasia of these wrenching days when up is down and nature is in full revolt. These eight fabulous yarns span the globe, from the Dalmatian coast to Florida in the near future, when Miami is a watery grave... These tales are not short, but they feel even roomier owing to the way Russell cracks open narrative space with humor. Her descriptions are 21st century Dickensian genius... Russell is also the greatest user of verbs in American fiction since Annie Dillard... In these stories, though, Russell reveals we don’t have to be silent. We can shout as does this book. Look for it, with its color, it won’t be hard to find. It’s a beacon.

    The Boston Globe

    [A] masterpiece... Incandescent... horror always cohabits with humor... [A] superb collection.

    The Wall Street Journal

    Another set of masterpieces…Russell’s language rockets off the page…one of our most entrancing storytellers.


    Praise for Vampires in the Lemon Grove

    Astonishing. . . . Vampires in the Lemon Grove stands out as Russell’s best book . . . with prose so alive it practically backflips off the page.

    San Francisco Chronicle

    From apparent influences as disparate as George Saunders, Saki, Stephen King, Carson McCullers and Joy Williams, [Russell] has fashioned a quirky, textured voice that is thoroughly her own: lyrical and funny, fantastical and meditative.

    Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
  • Books by Karen Russell

  • Media About Karen Russell

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