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Russell Banks, NY State Author 2004-2006
Russell Banks

New York State Author, 2004 - 2006

"I'm honored and extremely pleased to have been chosen state author. My predecessors, from the first New York State Author, Grace Paley, to the most recent, Kurt Vonnegut, are a distinguished group of writers, and I'm flattered to have been invited to join their august company." - Russell Banks

Russell Banks has published five short story collections, ten novels, and four poetry collections in a writing career spanning five decades. He may well be the leading voice of the working class experience in modern American letters. His work is acclaimed for its poignant depictions of economic hardship, family conflict, addiction, and racism. Banks has made his home in upstate New York since the 1980s, and three of his novels have been set in hard scrabble upstate New York towns. The Sweet Hereafter (1991) is set in a fictional town near Lake Placid, and employs four narrative points of view to tell the story of a tragic school bus accident. The Los Angeles Times Book Review called it, "a remarkable book, a sardonic and compassionate account of a community and its people, and of a catastrophe that vividly characterizes them even as it brutally acts upon them." Rule of the Bone (1995) is set in AuSable, New York, and on the island of Jamaica. It follows the adventures of Chapman "Chappie" Dorset, a teenage "mall rat" from a broken family who descends into a life of crime. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said, "Russell Banks has a singular gift for articulating the feelings of characters who would pass for inarticulate in the world. He trades in stunted lives and undernourished spirits; he gives them voices." Set in North Elba, New York, an historic free Negro community in the Adirondacks, Cloudsplitter (1998) tells the story of martyred anti-slavery activist John Brown. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the novel takes its name from New York's highest mountain, Mount Marcy, called "Tahawus" ("Cloudsplitter") by the native Algonquin. Time magazine called the book, "Masterly… a furious, sprawling drama that commands attention like thunder heard from just over the horizon." Banks's most recent novel is The Darling (2004), a political-historical thriller, which explores the seeds of revolution in Liberia and the anti-war movement in America during the 60s and 70s. His early novels include Family Life (1975), Hamilton Stark (1978), The Book of Jamaica (1980), The Relation of My Imprisonment (1984), Continental Drift (1985), and Affliction (1990). Two of Banks's novels have been adapted for feature-length films, The Sweet Hereafter (winner of the Grand Prix and International Critics Prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival) and Affliction (which earned James Coburn a "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar). Forthcoming film adaptations will include Continental Drift, directed by Raoul Peck, with a script by Banks, who is also co-producer; Rule of the Bone, directed by Chris Noonan, and co-produced by Banks; and Cloudsplitter, an HBO film directed by Peck and produced by Martin Scorsese. Banks's short story collections, Searching for Survivors (1975), The New World (1978), Trailerpark (1981), Success Stories (1986), and The Angel on the Roof (collected stories, 2000), have also received critical acclaim. Banks has won a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, Ingram Merrill Award, the St. Lawrence Award for Short Fiction, O. Henry and Best American Short Story Award, the John Dos Passos Award, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Banks lives in Saratoga Springs, and Keene, New York.

Russell Banks has been called, ". . .a writer we, as readers and writers, can actually learn from, whose books help and urge us to change." (Fred Pfeil, Voice Literary Supplement). In a writing career spanning five decades, Russell Banks has published five short story collections, nine novels, and four poetry collections. His fiction captures the experiences of working class people who live in the Northeast, and often deals with issues of family conflict, addiction, economic hardship, and racism.

Russell Banks has made his home in upstate New York since the 1980s, and his last three novels have been set in hard scrabble upstate New York towns. The Sweet Hereafter (1991) is set in a fictional town near Lake Placid, and employs four narrative points of view to tell the story of a tragic school bus accident. The Los Angeles Times Book Review called it, "a remarkable book, a sardonic and compassionate account of a community and its people, and of a catastrophe that vividly characterizes them even as it brutally acts upon them."

Rule of the Bone (1995) is set in AuSable, New York, and on the island of Jamaica. It follows the adventures of Chapman "Chappie" Dorset, a teenage "mall rat" from a broken family who descends into a life of crime. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said, "Russell Banks has a singular gift for articulating the feelings of characters who would pass for inarticulate in the world. He trades in stunted lives and undernourished spirits; he gives them voices."

Set in North Elba, New York, an historic free Negro community in the Adirondacks, Cloudsplitter (1998) tells the story of martyred anti-slavery activist John Brown. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the novel takes it name from New York’s highest mountain, Mount Marcy, called "Tahawus" ("Cloudsplitter") by the native Algonquin. Banks spent seven years researching and writing the novel, which is narrated from the perspective of Brown’s third son, Owen. Time magazine called the book, "Masterly... a furious, sprawling drama that commands attention like thunder heard from just over the horizon."

His early novels— Family Life (1975), Hamilton Stark (1978), The Book of Jamaica (1980), The Relation of My Imprisonment (1984)— employ a variety of experimental literary techniques, including shifting points of view, narrative interruptions, and nonconventional plot structures. He first achieved widespread praise with the publication of Continental Drift (1985), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The interlocking tale of two protagonists, a white oil burner repairman, and a Haitian woman who longs to emigrate to the U.S., Continental Drift marked the refinement of the experimental techniques of his earlier novels. The Nation praised Banks’s "vigorous, unornamented style which moves easily between narrative and authorial aside," while the New York Review of Books called the novel, "an absorbing and powerful book that ambitiously attempts to ‘speak’ to the times."

Affliction (1990), his next novel, examines the lasting impact of a destructive father-son relationship. The Women’s Review of Books hailed it as a "gripping, most beautiful, grim and wide-sweeping novel," and "a requiem for a working class manhood that careens between decency, even sweetness, and brutal violence." Affliction was short-listed for both the PEN/Faulkner Fiction Prize and the Irish International Prize.

Two of Banks’s novels have been adapted for feature-length films, The Sweet Hereafter (winner of the Grand Prix and International Critics Prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival) and Affliction (which earned a "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar for James Coburn). Banks is also the screenwriter of a forthcoming film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, directed by Joel Schumacher, and produced by Francis Ford Coppola.

Banks’s short story collections include Searching for Survivors (1975), The New World (1978), Trailerpark (1981), Success Stories (1986), and his collected stories, The Angel on the Roof (2000). The New York Times called The Angel on the Roof, "A beautifully lucid, frequently wrenching collection ... What elevates these stories far above their tacitly heartbreaking events are the vast reserves of compassion and wisdom that Mr. Banks brings to framing tragedy."

Born in Newton, Massachusetts, March 28, 1940, Russell Banks was raised in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1967 and he has taught at Emerson College, the University of New Hampshire, New England College, Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and Princeton University.

Banks has won numerous awards for his work, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, Ingram Merrill Award, The St. Lawrence Award for Short Fiction, O. Henry and Best American Short Story Award, The John Dos Passos Award, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Banks resides in both Saratoga Springs and Keene, New York.


Books by Russell Banks

Cloudsplitter Affliction The Sweet HereafterContinental Drift Rule of the Bone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


On April 16, 1999, Russell Banks participated in a panel The Writer as Film Writer, the Director as Auteur which discussed adapting fiction into film from the perspectives of the writer and the director. (Banks' novels The Sweethereafter and Affliction have been adapted into film.). This was for the Associated Writing Programs Annual Conference in Albany, NY

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.