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.

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.

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)

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.