Country

USA

General presentation

Russell Banks was born on 28 March 1940 in Newton, Massachusetts, into a working class family. He had a difficult childhood, marred by poverty and violence – coming especially from his father. Although Russell enrolled in university, after just a few weeks he dropped out, feeling somewhat out of place in such an environment. This led to a period of travelling, during which time Russell had hopes of heading to Cuba where Fidel Castro was, but he never got further than Florida. He then set off for Yucatán in Mexico before settling in Jamaica for a few years. After a series of odd jobs, Russell decided to go back to school, and got a degree in English Literature from the University of North Carolina in 1967, which paved his way to an academic career. He first taught at Sarah Lawrence and then Princeton, where he still gives lessons in Contemporary Literature to this day. At 73 years of age, Russell Banks splits his time between the state of New York and Miami Beach in Florida. Considered to be one of the foremost American novelists, he is also a poet and short story writer. Guided by the writer Nelson Algren and influenced by Hemingway and Falkner, his recurring themes evoke the life of the American working class and that of dropouts, as well as the father figure. Russell's work has been translated into over 20 languages. Through his writings, he denounces poverty, oppression, addiction, social exclusion, prejudice, racism and often weaves historical facts into his fiction. He is also said to be the best portrait artist of the rejects of American society, generally describing a world out in the American sticks, of underprivileged classes, of characters expressing sadness, down-and-out on their luck and for whom tragedies are a daily occurrence, of society's victims nevertheless showing immense courage and resilience in their struggle for survival. The book of Jamaica (1980) tells of an American writer's journey to study the Maroon population in Jamaica. Continental drift (1985) is the story of two inter-linking destinies of the American Dream: that of a burnt-out boiler repairman from a small town in New Hampshire who sets off to Florida with his family, and that of a young Haitian woman fleeing the violence and poverty of her homeland who comes to America. Rule of the Bone (1995) is the story of a teenage boy who, left to fend for himself, decides to run away and journeys through America before reaching Jamaica. Cloudsplitter (1998): Owen Brown, son of the famous American abolitionist John Brown, reveals the real life, temperament and enterprises of his father. Several of Russell Banks' novels have been turned into films. The latest adaptation currently under way is The Darling (in which the protagonist goes back over his journey to Liberia in the 1960s and '70s), by Martin Scorsèse. Russell's most recent publication is entitled Lost Memory of Skin (2012). This is a work of fiction that denounces the consequences of online pornography where the limits between fantasy and reality vanish, with the loss of consideration of physical contact, where the social exclusion of so-called "sexual delinquents" is brought to the fore. Russell Banks is considered to be one of the most politically involved American writers. As a progressionist, he used to campaign for the Far Left. He speaks out against racism and oppression, took a stand against the Iraq War, opposed the Patriot Act and supported Obama in both of the previous two elections. He has also stood as President of the International Parliament of Writers, which is committed to defending persecuted writers. Last but not least, he is a member of the American Academy Arts and Letters and Founding President of Cities of Refuge North America (which works to establish places of refuge for threatened writers). Russell Banks is the guest of honour at the 3rd Caribbean Writers Congress, which takes place every two years in Guadeloupe.

Select bibliography

Novels

  • Lost Memory of Skin. Ecco, 2012 (Lointain souvenir de la peau. Translated by Pierre Furlan, published by Actes Sud, 2012).
  • The Reserve. Harper Perennial, 2009 (La Réserve. Translated by Pierre Furlan, published by Actes Sud, 2008).
  • The Darling. Harper Perennial 2005 (American darling. Translated by Pierre Furlan, published by Actes Sud, 2005).
  • Cloudsplitter. Harper Perennial 1998 (Pourfendeur de nuages. Translated by Pierre Furlan, published by Actes Sud, 1998).
  • Rule of the Bone. Harper Perennial, 1995 (Sous le règne de Bone. Translated by Pierre Furlan, published by Actes Sud, 2006).
  • The Sweet Hereafter. Harper Perennial, 1991 (De beaux lendemains. Translated by Christine Le Boeuf, published by Actes Sud, 1997).
  • Affliction. Harper Perennial, 1989 (Affliction. Translated by Pierre Furlan, published by Actes Sud, 2000).
  • Continental Drift. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1985 (Continents à la dérive. Translated by Marc Chénetier, published by Actes Sud, 2000
  • The Relation of My Imprisonment. Harper Perennial, 1983 (La Relation de mon emprisonnement. Translated by Rémy Lambrechts, published by Actes Sud, 1995).
  • The Book of Jamaica. Harper Perennial, 1980 (Le Livre de la Jamaïque. Translated by Pierre Furlan, published by Actes Sud, 2012).
  • Hamilton Stark. Houghton Mifflin, 1978 (Hamilton Stark. Translated by Rémy Lambrechts, published by Actes Sud, 2008).
  • Family Life. Harper Perennial, 1975 (Vie de famille)
  • Searching for Survivors. Fc2/Black Ice Books, 1975

 

Short stories (collections)

  • The Angel on the Roof, 2000 (L’ange sur le toit. Translated by Pierre Furlan, published by Actes Sud, 2001).
  • Success Stories. Harper & Row, 1986 (Histoire de réussir. Translated by Pierre Furlan, published by Actes Sud, 2006).
  • Trailerpark. Harper Perennial, 1981 (Trailerpark. Translated by Pierre Furlan, published by Actes Sud, 1998).
  • The New World. 1978 (Le Nouveau Monde).

Poetry

  • Snow. Bluefish 1974.
  • Waiting To Freeze. Northwood Narrows, N.H., Lillabulero Press (1969)

 

Other

  • Invisible Stranger. Harper Collins, 1998.
  • Dreaming Up America. Seven Stories Press, 2008.

Prizes and distinctions

  • 2012: Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, shortlist, Lost Memory of Skin[
  • 1996: Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 1985: John Dos Passos Prize for his work of fiction Cloudsplitter

@La Médiathèque Caraïbe

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