In our interview with author Karen Russell we discussed how her South Florida childhood influenced her bestselling book Swamplandia! about a gator-wrestling amusement park:

“We did go on annual field trips to watch alligator wrestling when I was a kid, so I’m sure that had some kind of psychological impact. … I think people from different regions probably have that relationship to who knows what, like a deer or a cow, I don’t know. But the alligator for me was the emblem of everything sublime and ancient and mysterious and other, so it had a lot of significance for me as a writer, and I just tried to translate that for readers.”

photo by coolbriere via flickr


Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Mired in the Florida Everglades and want to know more? Try these next…

The Swamp by Michael Grunwald for a non-fiction historical primer on what Marjory Stoneman Douglas called the “river of grass”

Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen for a campy look at how those bugs and alligators can drive a man mad

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston for the best literary depiction of a hurricane — that “monstropolous beast” — ever written

Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen for an American masterpiece about the nation’s other frontier

This post was guest edited by Nick Moran, Social Media Editor at The Millions.

NY Times Best Books of 2011

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you the latest news about Karen Russell, 2009 Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers Fellow…

Karen’s critically acclaimed novel Swamplandia (which can be found at the Library) was just selected as a best book of 2011 by the New York Times! Swamplandia has been making the rounds of late and is in development to become an HBO Comedy project. 

You can hear Karen discuss the creation of her novel with another immensely talented author, Wells Tower, during her visit to the Library last March at an event hosted by the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. (Wells Tower will be appearing at the Library with John Jeremiah Sullivan on December 15 - check that out too!) 

The Bird Man, Swamplandia!, Karen Russell

A puffy white face on which, compared to the boots and the patchwork outfit, looked almost ordinary. The man was blinking violently down at me, caught in the light, his pale lips twisted in a grimace…This man’s age was impossible for me to guess. He was younger than my grandfather and older than my brother. His eyes were something terrifying…Bright eyes in a shingled face…The Bird Man frowned, which turned his long nose into a blade. Light caught on his whistle and in the soft, wet curls of hair around his ears, but his eyes were dull as gunmetal. He’d scratched his thin hair into a pompadour—it looked as though every wire were coming disconnected in his brain. (Suggested by phaunosfaunus)

But if South Florida must be cut off from the rest of the state, the Miami New Times suggested a much better nation category for South Florida – Swamplandia, after author Karen Russell’s 2011 novel.

Here’s writer Mike Miller’s description:

Founded by a teetotalling widow and a monopolist oil baron, Swamplandia has long been a menagerie of delusional dreamers, Ponzi schemers, and rakish ruffians reinventing themselves in a tropical climate. It prizes cash, money, dinero, moolah, balling hard, Maybachs, strippers, champagne, cocaine, surgically sculpted T&A, and – above all – American football. Since 1980, it has been more comfortable speaking Spanish than English, but if you need to ask why pues vete pa la pinga con ese pendejo Fidel. We clash with pretty much every other region, which all see us as superficial outsiders. But, like, whatever. Swamplandia may be the newest of American nations, yet we’re American all the same.

Watch on nypl.tumblr.com

Karen Russell’s critically acclaimed novel, Swamplandia, is coming to your small screen! The witty, yet haunting tale of Ava Bigtree, which Karen began during her fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, has been approved by HBO. Producer Scott Rudin will lead the half-hour comedy project.  

Earlier this year, Karen spoke with fellow Fellow (that was fun to write) Wells Tower about her work, her process, and her sense of humor and you can listen to it right here!  Now… don’t miss another great opportunity to meet the illustrious fellows at the Cullman Center - sign up for Cullman Center news and events.

I still can’t describe Swamplandia. I think I tried 800 times, and every time it just sounds insane and false, and sort of panicky — the way I sound when they ask me if I packed my own bags at airport security. It really is the conversation killer at the cocktail party. People will say, ‘What are you working on?’ And I’m like, 'Oh, well…’ and everyone is like, 'Where’s the bar? That book of yours sounds doomed.’
—  Karen Russell, author of the new book SLEEP DONATION, to BuzzFeed

Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin?
Kelvin, right? Duh! Kelvin sounds like a hermaphrodite foreign-exchange student from another planet. I’m picturing a redhead in a calf-length skirt and glasses. But this might actually be revealing a troubling lapse in my public-school education. Is Kelvin a way to measure temperature? Or conductivity or something? Ductility? Well, ignorantly, I stand by my preference.

Talk about your vision of the ideal life.
My vision of an ideal life is so boring. I’d love to have children one day. To have a permanent address where mail can come, and a Virginia Woolf–style Room of One’s Own where I could keep on writing books, stories, and novels. To achieve some relatively serene ratio of teaching:writing:traveling. A dog — can I have a dog in my ideal life? A rescue dog that sort of prefers me to other people, even though, you know, she’s really friendly? I’ve been moving around so much in the past several years that I think it would be heaven to have a small, quiet life where I can read for pleasure and visit green spaces. Maybe a life where I get to see my friends in a relaxed way and go swimming in the summers and see ridiculous movies in the theater. Impossibly, it would be so lovely to be a short commute from my friends and family. I’d love to play H-O-R-S-E on Sundays with my best friends and my brother and sister and their future offspring. Basketball utopia. Oh! There is also legal street parking in my ideal life. Actually, maybe buses take you everywhere. I’m in Philly at the moment and driving again for the first time in over a decade, and I’m terrified of vehicular manslaughter.

Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
Turtles! For reasons unnervingly similar to my dating rationale above: turtles are as tough and old as the world but also so basically helpless and vulnerable. I’m sure I’d be the owner in the sad pet-store urban legend, though, whose gigantic, slow-moving turtle ran away.

Five extraordinary recent story collections:
After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh
The Uninnocent by Bradford Morrow
If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black
Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell
You Think That’s Bad by Jim Shepard