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Russell, Karen

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1981-    ) US author who began to publish work of genre interest with "Haunting Olivia" in The New Yorker for 13-20 June 2005; the tale evokes a world and mood to which her work repeatedly returns: the coves, islets, and low-lying inlands of southern Florida, whose Polders [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] and thresholds Russell dramatizes with a sensibility that might be called Florida Gothic (see Gothic SF). The phantasmagoria attendant upon the narrator's search for the ghost of his drowned sister might be rationalized fantasy save for one minor detail; this tactic is repeated in many of Russell's early, first-person stories, which were collected in St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (coll 2006); later stories, assembled in Vampires in the Lemon Grove (coll 2013) and Orange World and Other Stories (coll 2019), more deeply explore the interstices of Fantastika in ways evocative of the work of older contemporaries like Kevin Brockmeier or George Saunders and others who have published in recent years in The New Yorker.

Russell's most substantial work, the novel Swamplandia! (Summer 2006 Zoetrope All-Story; 26 July 2010 New Yorker; exp 2011), evokes this milieu with remarkable vividness; a considerable critical and popular success, it was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. The novel's greater amplitude allows the further development and intensification of Russell's themes: the implication that Polders can be nestled within individuals as easily as in locales ("My older sister has entire kingdoms inside her, and some of them are only accessible at certain seasons, in certain kinds of weather") is now explicit, and the elements of Fantastika undergo, for the first time unambiguously, a devastating thinning. [GF]

see also: Magic Realism; Supernatural Creatures.

Karen Russell

born Miami, Florida: 10 July 1981


  • Swamplandia! (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2011) [early versions appeared Summer 2006 Zoetrope All-Story and 26 July 2010 The New Yorker: hb/Luther Daniels Bradley]

collections and stories


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