ABOUT THE AWARD
When William Carr Banks died in 1975, he had been a resident of Moscow and the university community for almost 50 years. He started teaching literature and writing in the fall of 1926, living then with his wife Mary in a now-gone house just about where the Office of Student Financial Aid is.
He didn't publish, but in those different days, he didn't perish, either. What he did was teach. Listen to Dick Dell, a former student: "Some students found his technique terribly frustrating. Particularly those who thought you went to class like a dry sponge to soak up wisdom from the mouth of the seer. Bill loved to frustrate that type of student. He loved even more to set them to thinking."
He also wrote countless letters and poems to people he loved. "He wrote letters as naturally as he breathed, even when his day was crowded with teaching and conferences, or harvesting, or family-tending," says Mary Banks in her Foreword to a posthumous collection of these wonderful texts. When he died, Mary and a lot of other people who knew how much Bill loved language made sure that the intensity of his affection would stick with us.
Yearly interest income from the Banks Memorial Fund, established in 1976, provides stipends to reward fine writing done by students in English classes. Faculty members submit the best work they receive, and once a year they look through these pieces and choose several to honor with a prize and publication in an anthology. The number varies each year, as do the categories, but a strong sense suffuses the deliberations: nothing less than the best should garner a Banks Award.
Winners aren't inevitably English majors, but they are always people who have learned how to make language sing. Susan Bruns, UI's Rhodes Scholar and a finance major, won in 1986 for a moving essay on Thomas Mann's Death in Venice
. Many winners have themselves become writing teachers at schools across this country and abroad. Some of the writing has found its way into nationally-distributed magazines and collections.
Legacy: something handed on by those who have come before. That—thanks to Bill's inspiration and his friends' generosity—is what a Banks Award is.
Gary Williams - Department Chair