David Wilk interviews Russell Banks about Lillabulero magazine

February 4, 2018 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology, mostly talking about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As every media business continues to experience disruption and change, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as it is affected by technology and the larger context of culture and economics.

Over the past few years, the series has expanded  to include conversations on many other literary and publishing topics. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all its forms and formats, to help document the breadth and depth of modern literary publishing.

Listeners will most likely know of Russell Banks for his powerfully written and evocative fiction. His novels include The Darling, The Sweet Hereafter, Cloudsplitter, Rule of the Bone, Affliction, Continental Drift, Searching for Survivors, Trailerpark, among others, as well as a collection of short stories, A Permanent Member of the Family.

The prolific Banks has written poems, stories, and essays that have appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, Harper’s and other magazines and journals. His most recent book is the memoir entitled Voyager.

Banks has been widely honored, having won the Ingram Merrill Award, the John Dos Passos Award, the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Continental Drift and Cloudsplitter were Pulitzer Prize finalists; Affliction, Cloudsplitter and Lost Memory of Skin were PEN/Faulkner Finalists. He is also the founder and president of Cities of Refuge North America.

I think Russell Banks is among the best writers we have. I’ve been moved and challenged by his writing for a very long time. But  the main reason I wanted to talk to Russell for this Publishing Talks series is that he was the co-editor of the important literary magazine and press, Lillabulero. With poet Bill Matthews, Russell started publishing Lillabulero when they were students at UNC in Chapel Hill in 1966. That magazine was an important part of the sixties generation of literary magazines and presses, and along with its many peers and competitors helped build a new literary culture that we are still experiencing today.

In those days, mimeographs and a new generation of small offset printing presses, along with inexpensive postal rates, enabled a low cost of entry for writers and editors to reach a wide audience all over the country and to create a new community of readers that were equally hungry for new work as much as the writers themselves sought audiences. Russell and Bill were at the center of much of the creative energy that was circulating around the country at that time, and Lillabulero quickly earned a reputation for quality writing from new writers.

Bill Matthews passed away far too young, and is missed by all those who knew him and his work; I hope this conversation will help bring him wider attention. And it was a great pleasure and honor for me to have this opportunity to speak with Russell about this period in his illustrious literary career.

Bill Matthews’ son, Sebastian, interviewed Russell for the Fiction Writers Review a few years ago, and that interview is a valuable source as well, and the Paris Review interview with Banks is flat out terrific.