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Russell Banks

Russell Banks talks about the relationship between authors and Hollywood, including the adaptation of his own novels for the screen.

In this episode of The Archive Project, we feature a talk by Russell Banks from 1999. Banks was the author twenty-one books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. He was twice a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize, first in 1985 for his seminal work of fiction Continental Drift, and then again in 1998 for Cloudsplitter. The New York Times lauded his “vivid portrayals of working-class Americans grappling with issues of poverty, race, and class” and placed him “among the first ranks of contemporary novelists.”

Banks also worked extensively in Hollywood, beginning when two of his novels—The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction—were made into feature-length movies.

In this talk, Banks talks about the uneasy and sometimes downright hostile history between authors and Hollywood with some hilarious anecdotes. And while this tension continues today, there’s also another fascinating contemporary resonance in his talk. At the time, the digital transition in filmmaking was dramatically lowering the cost of production, allowing serious films to be made from literary fiction and nonfiction. A blossoming of these so-called indie films resulted in the late-90s and the aughts. Today, another revolution has taken hold: streaming.  It too has brought us another wave of incredible novelistic narratives on the screen, but this time on what we traditionally have called TV.

Banks’ career was long and varied and he made an incredible and enduring contribution to our national culture. Russell Banks died on January 8, 2023 at the age of 82.

“Writing and reading literary fiction and poetry are activities almost too intimate to talk about. Literature is intimate behavior between strangers.”

Russell Banks, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, was one of America’s most prestigious fiction writers, a past president of the International Parliament of Writers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Common Wealth Award for Literature. Banks passed away in January 2023 at the age of 82.

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