While growing up poor in Massachusetts in the 1950s, the son of an abusive, alcoholic father who left when he was just 12... it's unlikely that author Russell Banks ever imagined he'd one day be called "the most compassionate fiction writer working today" by The New York Times.
Similar doubts might have crossed his mind in his early 20s when Russell was, by his own admission, a bit of a "bar-room brawler". Still, he showed promis and inspired by a book from another working-class hero (Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road'), Russell set out to be a writer. His breakthrough novel was 'Continental Drift'- a book that told the stories of people who, like Russell, had the odds stacked against them.
It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize... but it was 'Affliction' - about an embittered small-town cop (and made into a movie with Nick Nolte) - that brought Russell a whole new audience. His next novel, 'The Sweet Hereafter' -about a small town dealing with a terrible tragedy - was also made into a film by one of this country's great directors, Atom Egoyan. Now Russell is telling the story of what might be the ultimate outsider: the convicted sex offender.
In his latest novel, 'Lost Memory of Skin', he finds humanity in people who are feared and despised... and asks whether society allows redemption for everyone - or just a chosen few.