In Memory of Leslie

Leslie Esdaile Banks passed from this life on August 2, 2011.  She wrote more that forty books under the names Leslie Esdaile, Leslie Esdaile Banks, Leslie E. Banks, L. A. Banks, and Alexis Grant.  She wrote romance, TV-tie-in novels, crime/suspense, crossovers, comics, a graphic novel, nonfiction essays, and short stories.  She was one of the most professional writers I’ve ever had the privilege to meet, full-bursting-running over with energy, ideas, new plots, new characters, and entire systems of thought to govern the worlds she created.  She studied film and wrote with cinematic scope and specificity.   Leslie did not ignore the world in order to make this abundant output.  Rather, she came out to meet us with open arms and the biggest of hearts.  She mentored and bonded and adopted people and showed up at schools and recreation centers and churches.  She helped us all.

In 1998, when I founded Art Sanctuary, my mother and a few friends allowed me to give house parties to sell the idea like Tupperware.  It was real start-up.  There was the bootleg videotape and a Xeroxed handout explaining the concept.  Our first season was upcoming.  At one friend’s house, with great food and a beautiful setting, the presentation went fine right up until the pitch for charter memberships.  People were about to give. Then one woman demurred.  It all sounded very promising, she said, but she was a discerning sort of businessperson, and she would need to see a budget and financials and more detail before she invested her money into the project.

With that, the momentum stopped.  Suddenly, instead of folks being down with arts in the inner city, they had to be prudent and hardheaded.  Not too fast…I was new at fundraising, and stymied.

Leslie Esdaile stood to her full height and tossed her perfect mane of dark hair. That big, gorgeous smile burst across her face and filled the room.  “Well, hey,” she said laughing, “The way I figure it is: we’re not on the Board of Directors, so I’m not sure  I get to ask for a budget.  She has a board for financial oversight.  Don’t you? And a 501©3.  And registration with the state Bureau of Charitable Organizations and due diligence yadda yadda yadda.  You’ve done all that, right?” She looked at me in a way that told me lovingly to buck up and smile.

“Oh, yes. Of course.”  I said it in a confident voice.  Her intervention made me feel instantly less desperate.

“And for everybody here who works long corporate hours, then lives in the suburbs, all they have to do is write a check—not even that much, really, like the cost of a dinner out—and then they get to come to North Philly and see Terry McMillan and The Roots and all these people here?”  She raised the handout and shook it.

“Yeah, that’s it. For real.”

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lotta friends who say that they do notwant to be the kind of black folks who make it—and then drive through their old neighborhoods and push the door locks.”  She stood next to me and opened her checkbook.  “This is great!”

It was vintage Leslie: big-hearted, entrepreneurial, smart, creative, fast, a rescuer.  Because of our hosts’ hospitality and Leslie’s intervention, we came very close to our goal for that day.  More than a dozen years later, some of the donors who began giving that day still support us.

That was how she wrote: just do it.  Leslie put the P in prolific.  Her head brimmed with complex webs of relationships as she explored how the world worked with all its potential for evil.  I’d call and she’d say that she was sitting next to the washing machine—writing!  She’d write two books at a time.  Sensitive to the many in our community who worry that the paranormal may undercut family values, she agonized about whether or not to start the black vampire series—which worked out ideas about redemption more thoroughly than many faith-based books!

Now and then, we’d get together at some important literary juncture for one or the other of us: before making a decision to start a book or overhaul it.  I joked that it was like having an affair, so intense and pleasurable was the experience of spending a morning in her book-head, or inviting her in to shrink mine.

I cannot stand to think that she’s not here to do it again.

Thank God for all those books to keep us company.


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