Russell Banks on the Transformative Magic of South Florida
In Conversation with Mitchell Kaplan on The Literary Life Podcast
On today’s episode of The Literary Life, Mitchell Kaplan talks to Russell Banks, author of Foregone, out now from Ecco Books.
From the episode:
Russell Banks: There are places when you enter them, everything is resonant. Everything has meaning. The fall of light. The smell of the air. The sounds in the air. The look of the people. Everything has meaning, as if in a dream. In a dream, every image has meaning. There are some places where that happens, and it happened for me in northern New England and upstate New York and it happened to me in south Florida, more than anywhere else. I could also name Jamaica and Haiti and the Caribbean, too, and West Africa the first time I went there. But I had never written about North Carolina, where I went to university, or Alabama, where I was a writer in residence, or New Jersey, where I lived so long and worked at Princeton all those years, and New York City, where I lived and worked. Those places, for me, didn’t have that kind of magical, transformative quality.
I’ve thought about it, why these two areas? They aren’t intrinsically more interesting or more literary than any other place. Less so, in most cases. But when you enter a place and you’re in a very turbulent and confused state of mind, the place takes on enormous importance and presence… it hits you in the face. When you enter a place and you have your life together… the place in a way recedes. It isn’t as confrontational, in a way, because you’re not there to be remixed. When I first went to Florida, to Miami, I was eighteen. I was a runaway and a dropout. I put my promising young life on a stick at the edge of the cliff, and pushed it over the cliff. I had disrupted all expectations. So I showed up in Miami, and to this day … 63 years later, I step off the plane and I go to Miami where I keep a little apartment, and I smell the air of the water from the Gulf and I hear the clatter of the palm trees, and I’m right there again, the same way I was when I was 18.
Russell Banks, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is one of America’s most prestigious fiction writers, a past president of the International Parliament of Writers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Common Wealth Award for Literature. He lives in upstate New York and Miami, Florida.