The Award-Winning Author of “Cloudsplitter,” Russell Banks Dies At 82!
The award-winning novelist Russell Banks has passed away. His works, including “Affliction” and “The Sweet Hereafter,” were set in the cold, rural communities of his native Northeast and imagined the hopes and failures of everyone from contemporary blue-collar workers to the radical abolitionist John Brown in “Cloudsplitter.” He was 82.
Professor Emeritus at Princeton University Russell Banks dies on Saturday in upstate New York, according to his editor Dan Halpern, who spoke to The Associated Press. Halpern stated that Banks was receiving cancer treatment.
Banks died quietly at home, according to Joyce Carol Oates, a former Princeton classmate who described him on Twitter as a great American author and “a dear friend of so many.”
Oates remarked, “I adored Russell and loved his enormous talent & noble heart. His best work is “Cloudsplitter,” although all of his is outstanding.
Banks was a self-described heir of 19th-century authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman, and he was born in Newton, Massachusetts, and raised in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He aspired to great art and profoundly understood the nation’s spirit. He was a plumber’s son who frequently wrote about working-class families, whether they were those who perished while attempting to escape, caught up in a “kind of madness” that the past could be forgotten, or those who, like himself, managed to escape and survive while asking the question “Why me, Lord?”
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Russell Banks spent a portion of the year in Florida and briefly owned property there, but he was primarily a man of the North with a traditional Puritan sense of justice. His stories frequently featured snowfalls, from the upstate New York hamlet in “The Sweet Hereafter” that had been torn apart by a bus accident to the desperate, divorced New Hampshire policeman in “Affliction” who his paranoid hallucinations had destroyed.
Oil burner repairman Bob Dubois leaves his native New Hampshire and establishes a business with his affluent brother in Florida in 1985’s critically acclaimed Banks novel “Continental Drift,” only to discover that his brother’s life was just as meaningless as his own.
In a profound, barely conscious manner, Bob recognized that his brother’s swagger and brag were empty from the beginning and forgave him for them just because he knew they were. But he had never imagined it would result in nothing, according to Banks.
His most ambitious book, “Cloudsplitter,” was a 750-page account of John Brown’s unlikely mission to end slavery in the nation. Although the story was written long before Banks’ time, local events genuinely inspired her. Banks frequented Brown’s grave site in North Elba, New York, where he lived, and the novelist told the AP in 1998 that Brown “became a kind of ghostly apparition.”
“Cloudsplitter” recalls Hawthorne and other first influences, reading like a predecessor to Banks’ more recent works. Owen Brown, John Brown’s son, remembered his father as a tormented Old World figure whose determination to free the enslaved people and punish the masters caused his face to burn like a revivalist preacher.
Banks’ narrator says, “I was a boy; I was terrified by my father’s face.” “I recall my father telling us to listen to him right now while staring into our eyes and burning us with his sight. He had made up his mind to leave his faults of arrogance and conceit in the past. He would then go to fight against slavery. He said the hour had come and wanted to join it in its full shout.
Russell Banks had previously been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for “Continental Drift” thirteen years before to “Cloudsplitter” in 1999. His additional accolades included membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Anisfeld-Book Award for “Cloudsplitter.”
In the late 1990s, two of his writings were made into critically praised motion pictures: Paul Schrader’s “Affliction,” which won James Coburn an Academy Award for a best-supporting actor, and Atom Egoyan’s “The Sweet Hereafter,” which starred Ian Holm.
The story collection “A Permanent Member of the Family” and the 2021 novel “Foregone,” in which an American filmmaker who immigrated to Canada after the Vietnam War reflects on his impulsive childhood – a background Banks understood from the inside – are some of Russell Banks’ more recent works.
Banks’ father, Earl Banks, was an alcoholic who, the author claims, battered him as a child and left him with a permanently injured left eye. His stories frequently featured absent or otherwise failing fathers. Russell was intelligent enough to earn the moniker “Teacher” in high school and become the first member of his family to enroll in college, obtaining a full scholarship from Colgate University. He was destined for other planets.
Russell Banks Dies: Russell Earl Banks was an American author of fiction and poetry. He was born on March 28, 1940, and died on January 7, 2023. Banks was best known as a novelist for his “detailed accounts of domestic conflict and the daily struggleshttps://t.co/zc5jhJwyjP pic.twitter.com/187cJCpBBX
— Lighthouse journal (@Lighthousejour2) January 9, 2023
He was one of the many 1960s youths who turned to Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” as a sort of Bible because he was an idealist in pursuit of ideas. His journey to join Fidel Castro’s revolutionary army in Cuba led him to drop out of Colgate and drive south, ending in St. Petersburg, Florida.
By the time he was in his early 20s, he had already been married twice (and eventually had four children), had been in several bar fights, had written poetry so terrible that he later wished he had burned it, worked briefly as a plumber in New Hampshire with his father, and then resumed his studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
When he released his first story collection, “Searching for Survivors,” and his first book, “Family Life,” he was in his mid-30s and approaching the end of his second marriage. When he turned 50 at the beginning of the 1990s, he was a well-known novelist and had settled into a long-lasting union with his fourth wife, the poet Chase Twichell.
In an interview with Ploughshares that was published in the publication’s Winter 1993–94 issue, he said, “Over the years, I think that I’ve been able to make my anger coherent to myself, and that’s allowed me to become more lucid as a human being, as a writer, as – I hope – a husband, father, and friend. If you’re under the power of fury that you don’t understand, it’s challenging to be a decent human. You start to help other individuals when you start to gain that knowledge.