Karen Russell, 2011 Recipient

Short story writer and novelist Karen Russell has been selected to receive the annual Bard Fiction Prize for 2011. The prize, established in 2001 by Bard College to encourage and support promising young fiction writers, consists of a $30,000 cash award and appointment as writer in residence at the College for one semester. Russell is receiving the prize for her book, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (Random House, 2006). She will be writer in residence at Bard College for the spring 2011 semester, where she will continue her writing, meet informally with students, and give a public reading.

The Bard Fiction Prize committee writes: “Karen Russell is one of those rare writers whose work shimmers not only with technical brilliance (her prose shines with sheer exuberance in every sentence) and with wildly original characters and scenarios, but she is someone whose work could be described as ‘wise.’  For all of her imaginative hijinks and hilarities, there’s a still center, a kind of spiritual gravity in her turning world, an understanding that sees through the absurd to the very heart of our humanness. Her marvelous collection of stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, might be read by some as ‘surreal.’ But, in fact, once the reader is acclimated to the unfamiliar places Russell spins into being, any sense that one is being narrated through some dreamscape quickly evaporates. Minotaurs, underwater ghosts, feral wolf girls, post-prophetic insomniac boys—these characters become our fictional intimates, ones we find ourselves relating to and embracing, ones we ultimately begin to understand are mirrors into our own experience. To read Russell’s stories is to enter into realms that are simultaneously inviting and appalling, bewitching and bewildering, lonely and loving, fantastic as an unbridled vision and familiar as a teaspoon. She’s every bit as comfortable writing sly slapstick laugh-out-loud comedy as she is plumbing the calamitous, pitiful depths of people who have gone astray, been cast away, are lost and silently miserable. We were impressed by how often her stories are about so many of the biggest themes. Identity and the complexities of growing up, negotiating that unimaginable bridge from childhood into adulthood—this is perhaps the theme that most interests her. Her characters seem always to be searching for something. Lost siblings, lost parents, lost innocence. She writes about island life and life on the mainland. Outsiders are one of her specialties. People in search of their souls.”

“I am overjoyed and deeply honored to be the recipient of the 2011 Bard Fiction Prize. It’s a pretty staggering honor to receive this award—caramba, look at the company I get to keep! ” says Karen Russell. “I am so excited to work with Bard's extraordinary students this coming spring.”

Karen Russell, a native of Miami, has been featured in both The New Yorker’s debut fiction issue and New York magazine’s list of 25 people to watch under the age of 26. She is a graduate of the Columbia MFA program and is the 2005 recipient of the Transatlantic Review/Henfield Foundation Award; her fiction has recently appeared in Granta, Zoetrope, Oxford American, Conjunctions, and The New Yorker. Twenty-nine years old, she lives in New York City.