by: Anne DeLello ’20 A&E Staff
Russell Banks, a successful and award-winning American author, spoke to an audience of students and faculty at Providence College this past Wednesday about both his fiction writing and poetry. Banks was previously a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, Lost Memory of Skin. He was also the president of the International Parliament of Writers and is currently a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as The New York Writers Hall of Fame. Banks has written over a dozen novels and won the St. Lawrence prize for fiction during his career over the past thirty years.
A Massachusetts native, Banks began his career as a writer with the book Family Life in 1985 when he was 45 years old. Two of his more famous works, Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter were adapted movies. The Sweet Hereafter also won the International Critics Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997. His most recent work is A Permanent Member of the Family, which was published in 2013.
Banks came to PC as the speaker for the third annual Jane Lunin Perel Poetry and Fiction Series. This event is in honor of Professor Emerita Jane Lunin Perel ’15 Hon, who arrived as a professor of poetry here in 1971. She is also the founder of the Women’s Studies Program. This series was created with the intent to “celebrate a life in which poetry and fiction synthesize the imagination with the Divine.”
Banks’ work focuses heavily on the drama of American life across his novels and short stories. In his introduction, Dr. Chard deNiord of the English department speaks to this and describes his work as being “profound in ways that few other American fiction writers have been able to emulate.”
At the event on Nov. 7, Banks read two short stories. The first one, called “Cow-Cow,” is a short story written about a cow who has escaped from a farm. The speaker references the cow throughout as “cow-cow.” It is also referred to as the “protein” for the family in the story. As the speaker, Katie, and her husband Larry search for the cow, Bank showcases mainstream American unhappiness, while adding jokes into the story for good measure.
The second short story, which Banks describes as being “a little more upbeat,” is about a man who happens to go to a bar one night and runs into an older woman, who was one of his past lovers. He tells the story in a fast-paced manner that allows the speaker within the story to come alive through Bank’s telling.
Following his readings, Banks was asked about what it is like writing in today’s world since his past works have chronicled life in America from the 1980s up to the present. When describing his writing, Banks said that, “Much of the kind of writing I do now is without will, or any impulse behind it, it’s a momentum of over 50 years or so, that is not perpetual but keeps going nonetheless.” Banks went on to add, “I’m not trying to write about the world today, I’m trying to write about the human beings who live in it.” Moreover, when referencing the stories that he read moments before, he said, “The stories I read tonight were 10 and 20 years old, but as I read them, I feel as if they live today.”
Overall, Banks focused on the fact that he is not as focused on expressing the world in his novels and short stories, but the humans who live in it, and he has clearly accomplished this feat in his writing.