Remembering Russell Banks

The novelist Russell Banks died on January 7, 2023. The following remembrance was written by Henry Reese, co-founder of City of Asylum Pittsburgh.

Many know Russell Banks as one of America’s very greatest novelists. 

But he also led the startup of City of Asylum in the United States and in Pittsburgh. And he helped us in Pittsburgh almost to the day he died. He had planned to come here in November 2022 for a reading to launch his new novel, The Magic Kingdom.

Without Russell Banks, there would be no City of Asylum in Pittsburgh. When he became the third President of the International Parliament of Writers, Russell resolved to expand the City of Asylum movement into the U.S.  And he did this almost single-handedly.

Russell’s dedication to our mission was deep, and he had a good feel for the pragmatics ….as well as superhuman patience that I didn’t expect. Over time, I learned that it really wasn’t patience: He was simply interested in people, all people, deeply.

On November 21, 2004, when I introduced Russell to make the keynote speech at our Pittsburgh opening day ceremony, I spoke about his books as being a place where character, commitment, and social justice collide….and implicitly ask the question, “What would you do?”

Russell answered the question in his own life with a clear-eyed and beautiful grace.

Henry Reese
Co-founder, City of Asylum Pittsburgh

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