The Creative Writing Program hosted budding fiction author Karen Russell on Wednesday. She read from her new collection of short stories, St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves.
Russell has been featured recently in The New Yorker’s debut fiction issues, as well as New York magazine’s list of 25 people to watch under the age of 26. She pursued her undergraduate studies at Northwestern University, then completed a two-year Masters degree in fine arts program at Columbia University.
Mark Slouka, the head of the Creative Writing Program at the U of C, introduced Russell, saying, “She returns to us the vertiginous pleasure of imagining.”
Russell read from the title story of her collection. It follows a pack of human girls who were raised by werewolf parents. The girls spent their childhood running, wrestling, snarling, and hunting with the real wolves of the forest. The story begins with the rehabilitation of these girls from animals into humans.
After the reading, the audience was invited to ask questions about her writing process, and particularly about the transition from undergraduate to MFA student to published writer.
Russell said there are advantages to going to an MFA program. Almost all her stories from this collection were written at Columbia and revised over and over again in peer workshops. The MFA program also connected Russell with agents and editors interested in publishing her work.
“I had to be proactive and tell myself that I’m never going to write the perfect story, so I’m going to send [my stories] out now,” Russell said.
Slouka pointed out the differences between a Ph.D program and an MFA program. He said that coming from a Ph.D program, he “wrote like a critic” and had to re-teach himself how to write.
“Reading and writing for two years is a joy,” Russell said of her MFA experience. “But it was a crazy thing to do.”
“It’s nice to know that my novel has a home already,” said Russell of her promised novel. “It feels like I’ve sold them real estate that doesn’t exist yet.”
Russell said she would love to write more short stories, but novels are more economically promising.
When asked if Russell has a fantasy life of doing something different and practical, she said that she works in a veterinary center for that very reason, but wouldn’t give up writing for anything.
“Even on a bad day, I might have written the worst sentence in the world, but it’s not like I killed a man,” she said.