Leslie Esdaile Banks, author, dies at 51

Posted: August 03, 2011

HERE'S HOW one reader described the impact of the writings of West Philly author Leslie Esdaile Banks:

"Her books draw so much emotion," said Zuma Gonzalez, president of Banks' fan club. "You laugh. You cry. You get angry. You talk to yourself on the bus."

A tribute any writer would cherish, but for Leslie Banks, it's almost an understatement.

She was most recently the author of a best-selling series of vampire novels, but she also penned numerous romance books, paranormal thrillers, nonfiction and other volumes in a staggering output that would make many other writers feel inadequate.

Her production totaled 42 books, mostly novels but also non-fiction, short stories and even comics, many set in Philadelphia with African-American characters.

Although it seemed that Leslie never left her computer, she also found time to be a vital woman, a loving mother, a generous friend who never stopped giving of herself - and a rare beauty.

She was one of the Daily News' Jenice Armstrong's "Sexy Singles" last year - at the age of 50.

"Big, tall, gorgeous, deep voice. She really took over a room when she was in it - in a nice way," said Yvonne Dennis, former Daily News writer and editor who had written about Leslie.

Leslie Esdaile Banks, who wrote her vampire books under the name L.A. Banks and also used the pseudonyms Leslie Esdaile and Leslie E. Banks, died yesterday of adrenal cancer. She was 51 and lived in University City.

Besides being a prolific writer, Leslie was also a willing advisor and encourager to other writers.

Former Daily News columnist and author Solomon Jones said that Leslie "was a mentor, always willing to help. You don't see that a lot among authors. She was also helpful to me on the business side. She was very familiar with the business world and that helped with her success.

"She was a very loving person," Jones said. "She was known for her big hugs. When she gave you a big hug and a smile, you knew she meant it."

"She was full of life," said her sister, Lisa Peterson. "She was exuberant. She laughed loud and often. She was a warm, generous, caring, loving individual."

One of Leslie's great pleasures was giving parties, at holidays and other occasions, treating her guests with her succulent and ample dishes.

"She made sure you ate well, and had bags to take home," her sister said. "She loved to see others enjoy life."

The sisters were born in Philadelphia to William T. and Helen Lena Peterson. They grew up on Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia, only a couple of blocks from where the MOVE disaster rocked the neighborhood in 1985.

"We could see the smoke," Lisa said.

Leslie went on to Girls High School, then took a business degree from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and a master's in filmmaking from Temple University.

A divorced mother, her daughter, Helena, 21, is a senior at Temple.

Leslie got a thrill when she introduced President Obama at Arcadia University, a visit that she felt she had inspired.

Burdened by staggering health-insurance costs, she wrote to Obama about her plight and he responded.

His talk at the college concerned health-care costs and he met privately with Leslie, gave her a hug and assured her that her situation would be addressed.

"I'll tell you one thing," she said at the time, "the president reads his email."

Leslie's writing career began in 1991, when her 6-month-old daughter was burned in a day-care accident and lost three fingers. Medical bills quickly escalated and Leslie tried a romance novel to help pay the bills. The novel, Sundance, was published in 1996.

Other books followed rapidly, including anthologies, thrillers, and eventually the vampire series, featuring a black woman vampire-slayer named Damali Richards, who operates mostly in the cobblestone streets of Philly.

"Leslie is the kind of person you can easily pick when you want an example of basic decency, humanity, compassion and conscience," said fellow writer Jonathan Maberry, founder of the writers' group called the Liars Club, of which Leslie was an active member.

"She was also so powerful, so full of light and possibiluty and magic that it's almost impossible to accept that she is gone," said Maberry, who attended Conwell Middle Magnet School with Leslie.

Among her many civic activites, Leslie was a member of the board of trustees of the Free Library.

"Leslie Banks was a passionate supporter of the Free Library of Philadephia and an important member of the board of trustees," wrote Robert C. Helm, trustee chairman. "Her insight, creativity and generous spirit will be sorely missed by the library community . . . "

The Liar's Club had planned a benefit for Leslie on Saturday. It will now be a memorial to her, with attendance expected by writers, editors, agents and friends from all over the country at Smokey Joe's Bar, 208 S. 40th St. in University City starting at 7 p.m.

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