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Russell Banks

Cloudsplitter

HarperCollins

1999 Fiction

Cloudsplitter
One of America's most uncompromising novelists, Russell Banks received the Anisfield-Wolf Award in 1999 for Cloudsplitter, a book about the abolitionist John Brown. Narrated by Brown's son Owen, the novel tackles complex themes of violence and social change, while also attempting, Banks said, to "tell a domestic story, a relational story" that would "humanize" the man many whites considered a madman, and most blacks consider a hero.

Cloudsplitter, Banks's first attempt at historical fiction, came after such critically acclaimed work as The Sweet Hereafter, Affliction, and Continental Drift– books that, despite settings ranging from hardbitten northern cities to the Jamaican countryside, share an interest in despair and the distant hope of redemption. It's a narrative that resonates with the author's biography. Raised in rural New Hampshire, Banks initially planned to follow his father into the plumbing business; where he grew up, he told an interviewer, "the idea of being a writer was like the idea of being a butterfly." But his mother intervened, helping to send him to the University of North Carolina. By the time he graduated, in 1968, Banks was publishing short fiction regularly and was able to find work teaching English and writing.

For Cloudsplitter Banks left the familiar modern settings of his earlier novels to undertake deep historical research into Brown's early life, exploring the private man before he led a failed slave revolt at Harpers Ferry, Virginia and became a figure of enduring public debate. Banks described his subject as "an idealistic man, not a brute, not a sadist, not a psychopath, but something more complicated and seductive."

Contributed By: Kate Tuttle

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Blog Posts about Russell Banks

VIDEO: "Storytelling Was A Way...To Save Ourselves" - Russell Banks

How do you write a novel about some of our society's least sympathetic members? Russell Banks found out just how hard it might be when he wrote his book, Lost Memory of Skin, about a colony of homeless sex offenders. In the video above, he describes his writing process and how he is able to craft characters that readers might not necessarily feel drawn to at the onset of the book:  He says:  While writing the book, I was just simply following my own deep personal curiosity and need to understand a life very, very different from my own... Read More →

For Writers, Is What You Do Art Or Commerce?

Russell Banks When it comes to the writer's life, sometimes you have to wonder how much the audience's expectations play in to the production of a book. Do writers worry that their stories won't connect, that this book won't be as successful as previous works, or do they approach each book from a space of clarity, with their only concerns on whether or not they'll be able to finish it? In the video above, 1999 winner Russell Banks talks with PBS' Evan Smith about why he writes and whether he writes for arts' sake or for commerce. In his latest book, Lost... Read More →
  • Russell Banks

    Russell Banks

    Born: 1940

    Other Works

    • Continental Drift (1985)
    • Affliction (1989)
    • The Sweet Hereafter (1991)
    • Rule of the Bone (1995)
    • Dreaming Up America (2008)

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