For other people named Mary Russell, see Mary Russell (disambiguation).

Mary Doria Russell (born August 19, 1950) is an American writer of speculative fiction novels.[1]

Early life and education

Russell was born in Elmhurst, Illinois,[1] a suburb of Chicago. Her parents were both in the military, her father a Marine Corps drill instructor and her mother a Navy nurse. She was raised as a Catholic but left the church at age fifteen, and her struggles to figure out how much of that culture to pass on to her children fueled the prominence of religion in her work. She graduated from Glenbard East High School and later she earned a Ph.D. in biological anthropology at the University of Michigan.

Writing career

Russell's first two novels, The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God—sometimes called the Sparrow series[2] or Emilo Sandoz sequence[1]—were published by Random House Villard in 1996 and 1998. They feature first contact with aliens. Both explore the problem of evil, how to reconcile the idea of a benevolent deity with a factual universe filled with pain and evil (Theodicy). The Sparrow won the Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, and Tiptree annual science fiction book awards (below), and it was the basis for Russell winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1998.[1] For the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, chief editor John Clute calls Russell an "author who established a strong reputation for cognitive subtlety and narrative power in her brief [science fiction] career; after the Emilio Sandoz sequence ... she turned her interest to other fields. ... Because of the quality of its writing, and the seriousness of its examination of various issues, some critics claimed that The Sparrow could not therefore be [science fiction]. Russell herself seems not to have encouraged the claim."[1]

Russell's historical novel A Thread of Grace (2005) is set in Northern Italy during World War II, and features both the Italian resistance movement and the plight of Jewish refugees escaping Nazi persecution throughout Europe. Much of story is based on accounts by survivors from the period, when many Italian citizens allowed Jews to seek safe harbor in their farmlands, cities, and ports. (Russell herself is of Italian heritage and is a convert to Judaism.)[3]

Dreamers of the Day (2008), another historical novel, features the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, which laid the foundations for the modern Middle East.[citation needed]

Her fifth novel, Doc (2011), is a Western and murder mystery. It is set in Dodge City, Kansas during 1878, when the friendship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday began, four years before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

In April 2015, renowned physicist Freeman Dyson told The New York Times Book Review that Mary Doria Russell was one of the three writers he would invite to a literary dinner party, along with Joan Breton Connelly and Kristen R. Ghodsee.[4]

Personal life

Russell resides in Lyndhurst, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, with her husband Don. They have a son, Dan.

She is a convert to Judaism.[3][5]



  • Hugo Award
  • Book of the Month Club Best First Fiction Prize

See also

  • Giordano Bruno, the Italian philosopher for whom the interstellar ship in Children of God is named


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Russell, Mary Doria". Revised June 4, 2014. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction ( Retrieved 2014-07-30. Entry by 'JC', John Clute.
  2. ^ "Mary Doria Russell – Summary Bibliography". Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2014-07-30. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  3. ^ a b "A Talk with Mary Doria Russell". BookBrowse. Doubleday Broadway. Retrieved 2007-03-19. 
  4. ^ Freeman Dyson, By the Book:
  5. ^ "An Interview with novelist Mary Doria Russell From the National Jesuit News". Retrieved 2013-09-24. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Mary Doria Russell". Science Fiction Awards Database ( Locus Science Fiction Foundation. Retrieved 2014-07-30.