Columbia University School of the Arts alumna and Writing Program adjunct faculty Karen Russell’s (’06SOA) much-anticipated debut novel, Swamplandia! (Knopf, 2011), was released February 1 to widespread acclaim. In the cover review, Emma Donoghue in The New York Times Book Review raved, “Vividly worded, exuberant in characterization, the novel is a wild ride: Russell has style in spades.” The novel also met with praise from Janet Maslin in the New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Washington Times, and others.
The Southern gothic meets magic realism in this tale of the Florida swamplands, which NPR termed “a continuously alluring phantasmagoria.” The novel tells the story of the Bigtrees, a clan of quirky outsiders who run an alligator-wrestling theme park in the thick of the mosquito-swarmed Everglades. Plucky thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree is left in charge of the park’s 98 alligators in the wake of her mother’s death and the departure of her father—Chief Bigtree—for the mainland in dazed search of a job to stave off impending bankruptcy. The story follows a Dantean arc as Ava, guided by an eerie swamp drifter called the Bird Man, pursues into the wild wetlands a sister who has eloped with a ghost—and as her brother slaves away for minimum wage at the hell-themed park of their corporate rivals, World of Darkness, in his own attempt to save the family.
Russell’s short-story collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, was named a best book of 2006 by the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times. She was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists and one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” fiction writers, and she made The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” list this year, along with fellow SOA alumni Rivka Galchen ('06SOA), Dinaw Mengestu ('05SOA), and Wells Tower ('02SOA), as well as Assistant Professor Gary Shteyngart. She also was a 2009-10 Cullman Fellow of the New York Public Library and a recipient of the 2005 Transatlantic Review/Henfield Foundation Award. Her fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, Granta, Zoetrop, Oxford American, and The Best American Short Stories. She is a native of Miami.
Russell will talk about Swamplandia! with fellow Writing Program alumnus Wells Tower ('02SOA) at The New York Public Library on Tuesday, March 15, at 7 pm, an event sponsored by the Library's Young Lions Program.