Acclaimed author Russell Banks dead at 82

Fans of award-winning author Russell Banks were saddened this week to learn that he passed away this weekend at the age of 82. 

The Associated Press quoted Banks’ editor Dan Halpern as saying that the longtime writer died in upstate New York on Saturday following a battle with cancer.

A career that spanned decades

The news service noted that Banks was born and raised in the Northeastern United States, an area that served as the setting for many of his books.

Born to a plumber, the fiction author typically centered his stories around working-class characters. In the late 1950s, he traveled to Florida with plans of fighting in the Cuban Revolution but instead chose to stop in St. Petersburg.

The author fathered four children through multiple marriages and for a time worked as a plumber alongside his father before attending college at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Banks’ initial success came with the publication of Continental Drift, a book about a repairman named Bob Dubois who leaves New Hampshire for Florida in order to go into business with his brother but is dissatisfied with what he finds.

“His brother’s strut and brag were empty from the start, and in a deep, barely conscious way, Bob knew that all along and forgave him his strut and brag simply because he knew they were empty,” Banks wrote, adding, “But he had never believed it would come to this, to nothing.”

Banks remembered as “one of our greatest writers”

Banks’ most acclaimed work was titled Cloudsplitter, a 750-page-long fictionalized biography he wrote about John Brown, a controversial 19th-century figure who violently fought against slavery.

The story was told from the perspective of Brown’s last surviving son, Owen Brown, who also serves as the story’s narrator.

“I was a boy; I was frightened by my father’s face,” Owen Brown said in the book. “I remember father looking straight into our eyes, burning us with his gaze, as he told us to hear him now.”

“He had determined that he would henceforth put his sins of pride and vanity behind him,” Brown recalled, adding, “And he would go out from here and wage war on slavery. The time has come, he declared, and he wished to join the time in full cry.”

“One of our greatest writers”

Other novels that Banks published included The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction, both of which would later be made into films.

Tributes to Banks quickly appeared on social media, with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns calling him “one of our greatest writers.”