The Late L.A. Banks: Beyond Vampires, Werewolves

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Leslie Esdaile Banks authored 42 books spanning a wide range of genres, but she was best known for science-fiction and fantasy. She at age 51 earlier this month after battling cancer. Guest host Allison Keyes discusses Banks' life and literary legacy with writer and novelist Tananarive Due.

ALLISON KEYES, host: And now we have a remembrance of a prolific author whose works travels genres from romance to crime to fantasy to graphic novels and nonfiction. Celebrated and bestselling author Leslie Esdaile Banks passed away earlier this month after a battle with cancer. She was 51 years old. She wrote more than 40 books, and her friends remember a rare beauty who could charm a whole bookstore or a room with her strength of spirit. Banks used a variety of pen names during her career, but her many fans knew her best as L.A. Banks. That's the name she used for her popular novels about werewolves and vampires that predated the "Twilight" and "True Blood" novels. Her popular series "Vampire Huntress" featured a female African-American protagonist, something you just don't see every day in fantasy fiction.

To talk more about the life and works of Leslie Esdaile Banks, I'm joined by another acclaimed African-American writer, novelist Tananarive Due. Her upcoming book is "My Soul to Take." Welcome to the program, and we're so sorry for the loss of your friend.

TANANARIVE DUE: Oh, yeah. Thank you so much. Thank you for doing the show and giving me a chance to talk about Leslie.

KEYES: Actually, tell us a little bit about her. She was tall. She was fabulous. She filled a whole room.

DUE: Yeah. You know all of it already. She was.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DUE: You know, she was tall in the sense that - yes, I'm short. So everyone's tall to me. But she was big in spirit, in love. There are so many writers who remember her laugh most about her. But that was just Leslie, just so full of joy and just so eager to spread it.

KEYES: You loved her a lot.

DUE: I did. Yeah. I did not get to see her as much as I would have liked. We were on different coasts. But we were part of a very small literary circle, you know, and we met through that literary circle of black fantasists and black speculative fiction writers. And so, yes, we definitely just fell into each other.

KEYES: Talk to us a bit about her writing for the people that aren't familiar with her novels. Why did fans connect with her so strongly?

DUE: Well, I knew from the very first time a manuscript came across my desk for a book called "Minion" that this writer L.A. Banks, as the name said, was going to be a star, because she knew how to write those page turners. She could tap into that love of the paranormal that we share to sort of dazzle us with the possibilities. But that's just, I mean, just the beginning of a very long and prolific career.

KEYES: I've got to ask you. Damon Williams of the Philadelphia Daily News said her fingerprints were all over the "True Blood" series, you know, that current HBO hit about the vampires battling real-life issues - all right, and the werewolves and witches right now, but that's a whole other issue.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEYES: And I've seen comments by some of her fans wondering why her novels weren't getting the same level of so-called mainstream adulation as those and the "Twilight" novels. What do you think? Is it still about black writers being pigeonholed and not seen as a true part of this genre?

DUE: You know, it's a sad thing to have to confront. And I think I've also confronted it in my own work, because I have also had works optioned, and that's a long, difficult road, no matter what kind of story it is. It's a miracle any movie ever gets made.

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

DUE: But definitely, when you're writing about characters of color, you're going to face an even higher hurdle. And I would think that, yes, it's no wonder that another kind of story based on European characters could leapfrog past characters of color, because so often in the film industry, they talk about the international model. Will it sell in Asia? It's not like it was in the '70s, when they made "Shaft" and they could really create movies and be profitable making movies specifically for black audiences. Now some filmmakers, Tyler Perry, can do that. He has a very specific audience.

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

DUE: He has yet to make any, you know, a supernatural thriller. Hopefully maybe one day he will, you know. But it is. It's very, very difficult. I can't say definitively that's the only reason, but I don't think you have to look a lot farther.

KEYES: Let me ask you really quickly...

DUE: Sure.

KEYES: ...because we are really short on time. Can you give us, for readers who haven't seen it, a really short - just tell me the opening of "Minion," because that's the thing that grabs people.

DUE: Well, "Minion" is pitting the forces of good and evil. You have Damali, who's a spoken-word artist, but she's also a vampire huntress. And it's her job - you know, she's been given this task every 1,000 years to fight the forces of evil. And what's beautiful about it also is she's also a spoken-word artist. So Leslie was bringing this funky kind of energy into the story, not just the same good-and-evil riff, but something that would really touch young readers and move young readers because she was speaking their language with a spoken word and wrapping it all up together into a team to fight the vampires and the forces of evil.

KEYES: What will you miss most about Leslie?

DUE: Oh, boy.

KEYES: I'm sorry.

DUE: You know, we spoke so much about her as a writer, and, of course, I love Leslie as a writer, but really, it's that - just that beautiful human spirit she had. If I look at two of the most generous people I've known - not just writers - in the past few years, it would be Elaine Harris, who passed away, and Leslie. You know, it's like the shiniest fruit, the sweetest fruit get plucked first. And that - even now, I know it's been some days since she died, but it's just such a shock still, that I really don't believe it. So I will miss her spirit, her laughter, just that rapid fire - you send her an email, she's sending it back right away. She's always there, ready to answer questions, ready to share. Just all of her spirit is what I'll miss.

KEYES: Novelist and American Book Award-winning author Tananarive Due joined us from Atlanta, Georgia from the studios of Georgia Public Radio. Her latest book, "My Soul to Take," her 10th novel, will be published in September. Thanks again, and again, our condolences for your loss.

DUE: Oh, thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KEYES: And that's our program for today. I'm Allison Keyes, and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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