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Kate Elizabeth Russell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Kate Elizabeth Russell
Born1984 (age 39–40)
EducationJohn Bapst Memorial High School
University of Maine at Farmington (BFA)
Indiana University (MFA)
University of Kansas (PhD)
Notable works
  • My Dark Vanessa

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


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 had not read Russell's book,[21] but discussed Russell's alleged appropriation on Twitter with Roxane Gay.[22][23] Gay subsequently published Ortiz's essay "Adventures in Publishing Outside the Gates," which alleged My Dark Vanessa bore "eerie story similarities" to Ortiz's memoir; the article began with an illustration of one artist copying another's work.[24] However, the Associated Press reported, "Reviewers who looked at both books saw no evidence of plagiarism,"[25] a conclusion echoed by Lila Shapiro of New York Magazine.[20] Nevertheless, in response to social media comments, and in the wake of the controversy over American Dirt,[26] Oprah Winfrey, who had originally tapped My Dark Vanessa as a selection for her influential Book Club, rescinded the selection.[25][27]

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.[25][28]


  • My Dark Vanessa (2020) ISBN 9780062941527


  1. ^ "The beautiful trauma of Bangor-area native Kate Russell's debut novel, 'My Dark Vanessa'". 6 March 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Clifton native's debut novel sold in a seven-figure book deal". 13 December 2018.
  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". The Guardian – via www.theguardian.com.
  12. ^ "Kate Elizabeth Russell's debut novel is an unsettling tale of abuse". 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 (31 March 2020). "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. 12 March 2020.
  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". The Guardian – via www.theguardian.com.
  20. ^ a b Shapiro, Lila (February 18, 2020). "My Dark Vanessa Is Not a Love Story". Vulture.
  21. ^ Sturges, Fiona (March 13, 2020). "Is My Dark Vanessa the most controversial novel of the year? Author Kate Elizabeth Russell speaks out". The Guardian – via www.theguardian.com.
  22. ^ Gay, Roxane [@rgay] (January 21, 2020). "This must feel so infuriating. I'm sorry that this other book is co-opting your story without acknowledgment. It's wrong" (Tweet). Archived from the original on January 22, 2020 – via Twitter.
  23. ^ Ortiz, Wendy [@WendyCOrtiz] (January 22, 2020). "Thank you, Roxane 🖤" (Tweet). Archived from the original on January 22, 2020 – via Twitter.
  24. ^ Ortiz, Wendy C. (January 29, 2020). "Adventures in Publishing Outside the Gates". Medium.
  25. ^ a b c "Oprah Winfrey dropped 'My Dark Vanessa' book club pick after online controversy". USA TODAY.
  26. ^ Grady, Constance (January 29, 2020). "American Dirt's publisher cancels the rest of the book's tour, citing threats". Vox.
  27. ^ Hampton, Rachelle (February 1, 2020). "Why My Dark Vanessa Is the New Book Everyone's Angry About". Slate Magazine.
  28. ^ Russell, Kate Elizabeth (February 1, 2020). "A Note to Readers". kateelizabethrussell.com.