"Reading is out-of-the-body travel," says novelist Russell Banks. What writers try to do, he said in an interview for Book Magazine, is to "induce in the reader--a stranger, a person you'll never see--a hallucination." Banks will lead a tour of the landscape of his imagination in a reading sponsored by the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies' Writers Series and the Angus MacDonald Fund on Wednesday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. in Room 10-250
Banks is author of the novels "The Sweet Hereafter" and "Affliction," both of which were adapted for feature-length films. "The Sweet Hereafter," in which four characters interpret events surrounding a school bus accident, was made into a film that won the Grand Prix and International Critics Prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. "Affliction," about a troubled New Hampshire cop, starred Nick Nolte, Willem Dafoe, Sissy Spacek and James Coburn, who won the 1997 Academy Award for best supporting actor.
Before supporting himself through writing, Banks made a living as a plumber, a shoe salesman and a window trimmer. "I think writing saved my life," he told Cynthia Joyce for Salon.com. "I was so self-destructive, so angry and turbulent, that I don't think I could have become a useful citizen in any other way."
The first in his family to go to college, Banks was raised in New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts in a working-class environment that has played a major role in his works.
Three of Banks' other novels, "Rule of the Bone" (about an abused adolescent crackhead named Bone, set in the Adirondack Mountains and Jamaica), "Continental Drift" (about a burnt-out New Hampshire oil burner repairman and his family who move to Florida) and "Book of Jamaica" (about a New Hampshire college teacher with an obsession for Jamaican culture) are currently being filmed, with Banks himself working on the screenplay for "Bone" and "Continental Drift."
"Storytelling has made it possible for me to make my life coherent to myself," he told Joyce when asked if writing about these deeply troubled characters was a means to exorcise his own past. "Even though I haven't been telling my own story necessarily, you can't keep your own life story out of it."
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A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 19, 2003.