The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

Features thousands of biographic and thematic essays on Jewish women around the world. Learn more

Mary Doria Russell

b. August 19, 1950

by JWA Staff
Our work to expand the Encyclopedia is ongoing. We are providing this brief biography for Mary Doria Russell until we are able to commission a full entry.

Mary Doria Russell at an event in 2008. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons.

An experimental writer who often grapples with religion in her writing, Mary Doria Russell has found inspiration in historical events from WWII to the OK Corral. Russell began as a biological and cultural anthropologist, focusing her 1983 PhD dissertation at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor on forensic analysis of Neanderthal biological features and burial practices. After many years of spiritual seeking, she converted to Judaism in 1993. In 1996 she published her first novel, The Sparrow, which drew on her Italian-Catholic heritage and anthropological training to imagine a Jesuit mission to an alien world. The book earned her numerous awards, including the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the British Science Fiction Association Award. She then turned to historical fiction: 2005’s A Thread of Grace, set in Italy during WWII, 2008’s Dreamers of the Day, which focused on the interwar negotiations that created the modern Middle East, and her two most recent novels, Doc (2011) and Epitaph (2015), which recovered and embellished the work of previous Jewish writer Josephine Earp to breathe new life into the story of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Mary Doria Russell." (Viewed on November 30, 2023) <>.


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