Kate Elizabeth Russell

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Kate Elizabeth Russell (born 1984) is an American author. Her debut novel, My Dark Vanessa, was published in 2020 and became a national bestseller.


Russell was raised in the town of Clifton, Maine, attending John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, Maine.[1][2] She subsequently studied as an undergraduate at the University of Maine at Farmington, earning a B.F.A. in Creative Writing in 2006,[3] and went on to earn an M.F.A. from Indiana University[4] and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Kansas.[5]

My Dark Vanessa[edit]

Russell's first novel offers a fictional account of a traumatic sexual relationship between its protagonist, Vanessa Wye, and Jacob Strane. Wye is 15 years old and a lonely student at boarding school when Strane, her 42-year-old English teacher, begins grooming her for a sexual relationship which will come to cast an appalling shadow over her life. The novel is a first-person narrative, jumping forward and backward in time amongst 2000, 2007, and 2017, with this last year affording Russell the social context of the Me Too movement.[6]

It is implied that Vanessa is, at least in part, an unreliable narrator owing to her reluctance to see herself as a victim or Strane as a predator.

My Dark Vanessa was a national bestseller.[7] It was selected for translation and publication in 22 countries, and optioned for the screen.[2][3] Reviewed positively in a number of publications,[8][9][6][10][11][12][13] My Dark Vanessa brought Russell into a public conversation regarding the novel's treatment of abusive sexual relationships, as well as an individual's right to privacy regarding past trauma.[14][15][16][17]

Russell was shortlisted for the 2021 Dylan Thomas Prize for My Dark Vanessa.[18]


My Dark Vanessa occasioned pre-publication controversy when author Wendy C. Ortiz complained that Russell's novel had received different support from that given to Ortiz's memoir concerning a relationship with her 8th grade English teacher.[19][20] Ortiz further alleged that My Dark Vanessa, which she had not read, possessed 'eerie story similarities' to her memoir.[20][21] As was reported by the Associated Press, 'Reviewers who looked at both books saw no evidence of plagiarism.'[22] Nevertheless, in response to social media comments, and in the wake of the controversy over American Dirt,[23] Oprah Winfrey, who had originally tapped My Dark Vanessa as a selection for her influential Book Club, rescinded the selection.[22][24]

As a result of the accusations of plagiarism and appropriation, Russell made a public statement disclosing that My Dark Vanessa had been inspired by her own experiences with sexual abuse as a teenager.[22][25]


  • My Dark Vanessa (2020) ISBN 9780062941527


  1. ^ "The beautiful trauma of Bangor-area native Kate Russell's debut novel, 'My Dark Vanessa'".
  2. ^ a b "Clifton native's debut novel sold in a seven-figure book deal".
  3. ^ a b "'My Dark Vanessa': Announcing the biggest-selling debut novel of the season". EW.com.
  4. ^ "Kate Elizabeth Russell author information". BookBrowse.com.
  5. ^ "Kate Elizabeth Russell". Graduate Program in Creative Writing. September 10, 2015.
  6. ^ a b "'My Dark Vanessa' Looks Back At The Devastation Of A Predatory Affair". NPR.org.
  7. ^ Egan, Elisabeth (April 2, 2020). "Oprah's Book Club Dropped Her Novel. It Still Became a Best Seller". The New York Times.
  8. ^ "My Dark Vanessa | Book Marks". Literary Hub. Retrieved 2021-01-02.
  9. ^ Roiphe, Katie (March 6, 2020). "Girl, Interrupted". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Gilbert, Sophie (March 25, 2020). "What Is the Point of 'Lolita' From Lolita's Point of View?". The Atlantic.
  11. ^ Zinovieff, Sofka (April 4, 2020). "My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell review – a powerful, shocking debut" – via www.theguardian.com.
  12. ^ "Kate Elizabeth Russell's debut novel is an unsettling tale of abuse" – via The Economist.
  13. ^ Liggett, Kim. "Review | 'My Dark Vanessa' is being described as 'Lolita' for the #MeToo era. It's more than that". Washington Post.
  14. ^ Ovenden, Olivia (April 4, 2020). "Kate Elizabeth Russell On Writing Her Explosive Debut Novel, 'My Dark Vanessa'". Esquire.
  15. ^ "The Delicate Art of Writing a Believable Sexual Predator". MEL Magazine. April 5, 2020.
  16. ^ Barry, Aoife. "Writing in the #MeToo era: 'It was intimidating taking on something in fiction that was happening in real time'". TheJournal.ie.
  17. ^ "Kate Elizabeth Russell on My Dark Vanessa and the 'Early Aughts Lolita Complex'". Pictorial.
  18. ^ "Shortlist for Dylan Thomas Prize Is Revealed". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 2021-03-29.
  19. ^ Sturges, Fiona (March 13, 2020). "Is My Dark Vanessa the most controversial novel of the year? Author Kate Elizabeth Russell speaks out" – via www.theguardian.com.
  20. ^ a b Shapiro, Lila (February 18, 2020). "My Dark Vanessa Is Not a Love Story". Vulture.
  21. ^ Ortiz, Wendy C. (January 29, 2020). "Adventures in Publishing Outside the Gates". Medium.
  22. ^ a b c "Oprah Winfrey dropped 'My Dark Vanessa' book club pick after online controversy". USA TODAY.
  23. ^ Grady, Constance (January 29, 2020). "American Dirt's publisher cancels the rest of the book's tour, citing threats". Vox.
  24. ^ Hampton, Rachelle (February 1, 2020). "Why My Dark Vanessa Is the New Book Everyone's Angry About". Slate Magazine.
  25. ^ Russell, Kate Elizabeth (February 1, 2020). "A Note to Readers". kateelizabethrussell.com.