Sparrow (Russell)

Author Bio 
Birth—August 19, 1950
Where—Elmhurst, Illinois, USA
Education—B.A. University of Illinois; M.A. Northeastern
   University; Ph.D. University of Michigan
Awards—The John W. Campbell Award, 1998
Currently—lives in Cleveland, Ohio

Mary Doria Russell was born in suburban Chicago in 1950. Her mother was a U.S. Navy nurse and her father was a Marine Corps drill sergeant. She and her younger brother, Richard, consequently developed a dismaying vocabulary at an early age. Mary learned discretion at Sacred Heart Catholic elementary school and learned how to parse sentences at Glenbard East High; she moved on to study cultural anthropology at the University of Illinois, social anthropology at Northeastern University in Boston, and biological anthropology at the University of Michigan.

After earning a doctorate, Russell taught human gross anatomy at Case Western Reserve University in the 1980s but left the academic world to write fiction, which turned out to be a good career move.

Her novels have struck a deep chord with readers for their respectful but unblinking consideration of fundamental religious questions. The Sparrow and Children of God remain steady sellers, translated into more than a dozen languages. Russell has received nine national and international literary awards and has been a finalist for a number of others. She and her family live in Cleveland, Ohio. (From the publisher.)

From a 2005 Barnes & Noble interview:

• I honestly think getting up early gives you cancer. You should definitely sleep in as often as possible.

• Coffee is good for you. Don't believe anyone who says different. All research concluding that coffee is bad is seriously flawed in scientific design.

• Here's how you know when you're grown up: you decide if you get to have a pet. You don't have to ask anyone else's permission. I just got myself a 4-year-old miniature dachshund named Annie from She makes me laugh out loud first thing in the morning, and at least half a dozen times a day after that.

When asked what book most influenced her career as a writer, here is her response:

Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence (1935). I saw the David Lean movie Lawrence of Arabia when it first came out in 1962. I was twelve then, and ripe for hero worship, living in Lombard, Illinois, but ready to imagine a larger world than the Chicago suburbs. I found a musty old copy of Seven Pillars, and to this day I remain fascinated by the book and the man who wrote it. I can name a number of direct effects of reading the book.

Initially, I became interested in archeology because of Lawrence's early work, and that led me to anthropology, which sustained my interest through three degrees and years of professional work. I keep my hand in by editing the professional papers of friends in the field.

Lawrence taught me that speaking more than one language opens doors to experiences you'd miss if you only speak English. Over the years, I've studied Spanish, Russian, French and Croatian fairly formally, with less studious stabs at Latin, Hebrew, Italian and German. Each one has led me places I'd never have gone other wise. My study of Croatian led directly to the adoption of our son Daniel in Zagreb—so Lawrence is Dan's sort-of godfather!

I learned that intentions are irrelevant and regrets are useless: it doesn't matter what you thought would happen, or that you meant no harm. Unintended consequences of good intentions are a theme I return.

Lawrence taught me that how you write is as important as what you have to tell about. Choice of word, rhythm, detail, editing and overall structure make Seven Pillars literature, not just a military history or personal memoir.

There are echoes of Lawrence's experience in Deraa in my first novel, echoes of his war guilt in my third. I'm beginning research for a novel about the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, and will come full circle: T. E. Lawrence will actually be a character in that one.

I also caught the colon habit from reading Lawrence's work: quod erat demonstradum. (Interview from Barnes & Noble.)

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