Russell Banks, award-winning novelist and the Howard G.B. Clark ’21 University Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus, and professor of the Humanities Council and creative writing, emeritus, died Jan. 8 from cancer at his home in Saratoga Springs, New York. He was 82.
He wrote 21 books, including fiction, short fiction and non-fiction. His novels “Continental Drift” (1985) and “Cloudsplitter” (1998) — his first historical novel, about the abolitionist John Brown — were both finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He received the Anisfield-Wolf Award — established in 1939 to recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures — for “Cloudsplitter.”
Banks joined Princeton University in 1982 and transferred to emeritus status in 1998. He was a pivotal member of the creative writing program and helped shape the continued growth and excellence of the program, which began as part of the Creative Arts Program overseen by the Humanities Council prior to the establishment of the Lewis Center for the Arts, alongside distinguished colleagues including Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, James Richardson, Paul Muldoon and Edmund White.
“During his time in the creative writing program, Banks was part of the Humanities Council’s lively interdisciplinary community that connects journalists, writers, filmmakers, painters, scholars and others in wide-ranging, provocative conversations,” said Kathleen Crown, executive director of the Humanities Council. She praised his wisdom and generosity in selecting early-career writers as Hodder Fellows for a year of “studious leisure” at Princeton.