Acclaimed novelist joins Library Author Series
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Renowned author Russell Banks will join the Bud Werner Library Author Series on Thursday, April 1 to discuss his latest book “Foregone.” Banks is the internationally acclaimed author of 21 books, two of which were made into award-winning films. He has won numerous honors for his books and has been a PEN/Faulkner finalist, a finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and twice a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Explore Steamboat caught up with him ahead of his talk to learn about his newest book, his writing process and advice that he has for readers.
Q. Tell us a little bit about your newest book.
A. It’s the story of a man in his late ’70s, a semi-famous Canadian documentary filmmaker, who is much admired in Canada. He’s one of the 60,000 American men who fled to Canada in the late ’60s and early ’70s in order to avoid serving in Vietnam. Now he’s dying of cancer, and he’s telling his story at the end of his life to a filmmaker who is making a documentary about him. This is his last chance to tell the truth and bear it all and do it on camera.
Q. How did you get the idea for this book or for your others? How are the first seeds planted?
A. Sometimes it’s a character that comes to you or sometimes it’s a context — a historical event or particular place that has power over you. Sometimes it’s even a plot — a little outline of a story. It varies enormously. The only thing they all have in common is that it takes command of you and starts to dictate the story and plot. A character can dictate the plot, for example. It’s a very fluid and interchanging kind of process.
Q. Do you get story or character ideas from your own life?
A. Oh sure – that’s my main resource after all. But I don’t write autobiographically. I take things that have happened in my life or people I’ve known and loved – or hated for that matter! – and they end up in some form or transformation in fiction.
What: Library Author Series: Russell Banks
When: 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 1
Where: A virtual event via Crowdcast. Sign up at https://steamboatlibrary.org/events/library-author-series/russellbanks.
Q. I read a quote that said you have “made a life’s work of charting the causes and effects of the terrible things ‘normal’ men can and will do” – what draws you to these types of characters?
Most of my characters are working class people who are struggling to get by and make it week to week or month to month. They’re people for whom life is hard work and threatening and difficult to rise over. The reason why I write about people like that is because I come from people like that. I was raised in a working-class family in New England and most of my life has been spent surrounded by people like that. They’re always with us, and there are more of them than the others. I think it’s a natural impulse.
Q. You were first published as a poet but later decided to switch genres to fiction. Can you talk a little bit about how your writing has changed over the past decades of your career?
A. It’s always in the reader’s hands to evaluate the writer’s work but as I’ve grown older I trust myself and my instincts more and my rational mind less. When I was younger, I was more insecure about the process and demands of art. I trusted my analytical mind and now I trust my intuition. Which of course means that now I know even less about what I’m doing!
Q. Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?
A. Not really; I started out thinking that I wanted to be an artist. I had an obvious talent for painting. If you have a talent for writing, it doesn’t necessarily show itself early on. But if you’re good at something like drawing, people praise you and you think it’s fun, and I began to think that I would be a painter. In my late teens I fell in love with literature and reading. And I wasn’t in school, I was a dropout. But I loved reading and I started trying to imitate what it was that I loved. I ended up spending all my time writing and not painting.
Q. What’s one piece of advice for readers?
A. That’s a good question. With everything I read, I try to discern what the writer is after, not what I am after. When I open a book, I don’t really know what I want out of it. But if I can figure out what the writer is trying to say and get me to experience, then I can put myself in the hands of the writer and I am much more likely to enjoy the book.
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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