American writer Russell Banks has died
For four decades, Russell Banks has established himself as one of the great landscape painters of American society. He died on Saturday, January 7 at the age of 82.
Russell Banks’ obituary was provided by his publisher, Dan Halpern, to The Associated Press: author. Good morning and D’Torment died this Saturday, January 7, 2023, aged 82; had published Oh Canada last year and who gave us an exclusive interview on this occasion.
Russell Banks has published nearly two dozen books in the 47 years since then Family life In 1975, he condemned the social, family, material or symbolic violence that plagued his country. Born in New Hampshire in 1940 to a family of uncertain means, he falls out with her and leaves her as soon as possible. Between Florida and Jamaica, Russell Banks follows a thousand different routes that can be found implicitly in his novels and summarized in his aptly titled autobiographical account. travelIn 2017.
Since the late seventies, Russell Banks has established himself as one of the greatest masters of the postmodern American novel. With a precise pen that gives much to see, he explains the depths and social and racial distortions of America. Thus, “Fine Mornings” and “Suffering” were brought to the screen by Atom Egoyan and Paul Schrader, respectively… Eight years after his last fantastic work, Banks is therefore returning to the screen. Oh Canada (Actes judicial publications). From his home in the mountains of upstate New York, Russell Banks will talk at length about letters, politics and his dreams as a writer. “I’m trying to be good,” he told our journalist Sophie Rosemont in an exclusive interview in August 2022. “Where do we go to find the calm, the peace, the freedom we need for our mental health… I guess I think it’s there is no salvation at the end of his garden in the world.”
Can’t find a getaway in Canada anymore?
My father and three grandparents were born in Canada, I have dual Canadian-American citizenship, and I told myself that was enough. But no! The United States is no longer the elephant in the bedroom, but the beastly behemoth of another era. If it evolved in the 1950s, it declined very quickly. When we see the activities of the Supreme Court and the progress of certain presidential elections, we can observe the same principles, the same arguments, the same power games as in the 19th century. I never thought this would happen one day.
Especially since you yourself have been involved in the fight for civil rights since your youth!
Yes, in 1964. In Chappell Hill, North Carolina, the most open-minded university in the South, still under the yoke of segregation and Puritanism. Under the leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, we formed several groups of highly motivated students to take to the streets. I ended up behind bars. When you fight for civil rights, you can’t escape it. We found more or less the same people in the peace movement. In the 1970s, some of us converted to neo-Marxism. I also remembered this transformation of youth American sweetheart…
In Oh CanadaFife meets Bob Dylan and Joan Baez in New York bars…
Yes, the guys who drank shots and told each other their life stories, just before their superlative fame. The next day they became stars, but managed to maintain their private existence. This enriches the discussion I explain in the book of the conflict between private life and public image: people value Fyfe only for what he represents, and in the twilight of his life he wants to end this confusion.
Fife missed his life, but those around him are sure of the opposite. we can consider Oh Canada as his salvation?
Under the influence! Fife is a failed man, yet he is a privileged white, cisgender male who holds a position in our society and unwittingly exploits it. He was loved by women, children, friends, parents, students… but he gave nothing in return. In the end, we will see if we can forgive him, even if we don’t love him, because he really faces himself, his past. He faces his responsibilities.
What draws you to Leonard Fife?
He has been quite well known for his work as an artist for many years. His reputation is that of the left, the oppressed, the working class, etc. Which is close to me! He also dropped out of college too soon, wanting to join Fidel Castro. In general, we had a desire for these leaks, unknown territories. If my youth has influenced my career as a writer, I have always tried to avoid it contaminating my corpus as much as possible, and when it did, it was for autobiographical purposes, especially in relation to Voyager. But I could not write this book until I was 82 years old and faced my own death.
Oh Canada it is also a social book that questions the status of migrants…
In the 1960s and 1970s, 60,000 Americans went into exile in Canada, which did not deport or extradite them, although the FBI or US Marshals wanted to lobby to pick up and arrest these children. Canada did not give up. However, they were white, they were educated, they could assimilate quickly both in terms of language and religion. They are now part of the infrastructure of the Canadian middle class. As there are several aspects of migration and we do not reserve the same fate for all…
Besides, Renee, a Haitian nurse from Fife, is the only one he can trust, right?
I wanted a figure that told the truth, because no one in the book can be trusted, let alone Fyfe’s testimony. Renee is a nurse whose skin color is different from that of the people she cares for. He is a true immigrant, unlike Fife. I like his honesty, his integrity, his willingness to just do his job despite the obstacles put up by Fife’s filmmakers and Fife himself. She does not care about each other’s social status: she has a husband, children, grandchildren… Her life is elsewhere.
Speaking of grandchildren… Your granddaughter is an African-American teenager and your granddaughter is a feminist activist. Are you afraid for these new generations?
Imagine that I have a grandson! What planet will he live on when he turns 25? When you really pay attention, the predictions are dire. Me, I’m going to die, but it breaks my heart because of this future youth, and yes, I’m afraid. My generation has a lot to replace – like Fife. It is our fault that the earth burns itself in fire and can only burn future generations. This is unforgivable. I would be crazy if I had grandchildren. Although I advise caution with both of them for different reasons, I am amazed at their greater commitment and confidence.
Why return to a novel after a break in non-fiction?
I have no idea and maybe it’s better that way! A writer should never know exactly why he is writing. The most important thing for me is not to repeat myself. Some authors my age are wandering around, digging the furrows that brought them success. I’m not interested. I just finished the novel. Magic Kingdom, to be published next year, is about the late 20th century and the Everglades. Three short stories in which working-class characters are Trump voters. I tried to understand this phenomenon… I hope the reader will sympathize with them because they voted against their own interests in the end.
And the French title of your book, Oh Canada ?
The original name was “Canada”! It seemed both sincere and ironic to me. But my American publisher reminded me that he also published a book by Richard Ford called Canada. It was annoying because Richard and I have been friends for over forty years and he would have been particularly offended if I had copied his title! So I went to Foregone. However, in discussion with my translator, Pierre Furlan, he taught me that this word is difficult to translate into French… and suggested Oh, Canada. Which worked perfectly in France without the risk of offending Richard.
Have you ever wanted to be an artist, and finally we find brushstrokes in your writing, drawing characters like landscapes?
I’m glad you saw it. He was unconscious for a long time. In the process of writing, I have to be able to imagine the clothes of the characters, the atmosphere, the light coming from the window, otherwise something is wrong, I cannot fully participate in my narrative. Or worse, an emotion escapes me. So I have to retrace my steps, and when the reader sees what I saw, my page is complete.
Oh Canadacinema, the way films are made, scene by scene, false or new beginnings, new sounds…
Are Hemingway and Faulkner still your literary figures? During my time in prison, I returned to these first loves. I was 20 years old when I discovered them, and I didn’t take them in the way I do now… I’m less naive, but their fictional inspiration still gets to me. In the winter, I live in Miami, not far from the home of Ernest Hemingway, whose novels were influential. Faulkner stands up well to time as Joseph Conrad, in whom I completely immerse myself.
What have you learned throughout your career as a writer?
When I was young, I wanted to write poetry, be a cursed author, subscribe to classified magazines…before I realized there was a difference between a writer’s work and a career. At least the so-called career. Success has never excited me. Fortunately, because if I manage my affairs from A to Z, I can’t predict what people will think of my books. I’ve been writing for over sixty years, moving from one century to another, which is lucky! But I insist on developing this dichotomy between the act of writing and the position of a public figure. Enjoying the shade again like a little jazz musicians…
Find this interview with Russell Banks in issue #145 available on our official store.