Richard Powers Biography
Richard Powers (born 18 June, 1957 in Evanston, Illinois) has received
numerous honors including a MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and
the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Historical Fiction. He teaches in the
Creative Writing M.F.A. program at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, teaching a graduate seminar in multimedia authoring and an
undergraduate course in the mechanics of narrative.
He grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, the fourth of five children.
Early in the 1960s his father, a high school principal moved the family to the
north Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood; then, when he was 11 (1968) his father
accepted a job at the International School of Bangkok, and the family spent the
next five years in Thailand, where he became both an accomplished music student
(cello, guitar, clarinet and saxophone) and a voracious reader - his earliest
literary passion being for nonfiction - particularly biographies and science.
He recalls feeling that he was "destined to be a scientist", thus as a teenager
he explored careers in paleontology, oceanography, archaeology and physics.
He enrolled at the University of Illinois as a physics major but was inspired to
change fields after taking an honors literature seminar (taught by Robert Schneider, a charismatic teacher and an accomplished Freudian critic who
convinced Powers that literature was the "perfect place for someone
who wanted the aerial view") - which led to him
earning an M.A. in English. After graduating, he worked in Boston as a technical writer and
computer programmer while continuing to read voraciously; he spent many weekends
at the Museum of Fine Arts where, one day, he came across a photograph titled
"Young Westerwald Farmers on Their Way to a Dance",
in an interview sometime later he told an interviewer, "I knew instantly not
only that they were on their way to a different dance than they thought they
were, but that I was on the way to a dance that I hadn't anticipated until then.
All of my previous year's random reading just consolidated and converged on this
one moment, this image, which seemed to me to be the birth photograph of the
The identity of the three men in the picture
preoccupied him so much that he decided to put his speculations in a novel.
Within two days he had given up his job to focus on writing and three years
later, in 1985, he published Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance. It was
praised by critics, but what most excited Powers was that at the age of 32 his
indecision was over, "It was the discovery that I didn't have to give up
anything that electrified me about writing, Here was a place where being a
dilettante was actually an asset. You could, for two years, live vicariously as
a German farmer or a molecular geneticist, that thing that you gave up at 18 and
figured you'd never visit again."
Since then he has
published a book every two to three years: Prisoner's Dilemma (1988), The Gold Bug Variations (stories, 1991), Operation
Wandering Soul (1993), Galatea 2.2 (1995), Gain (1998),
Plowing the Dark (2000), The Time of Our Singing (2003), The
Echo Maker (2006), and Generosity (2009).
His books share what Powers refers to as "a restlessness in theme", covering
a multitude of areas but usually, if not always, exploring the effects of modern
science and technology that, in Powers's words give an "an aerial view" - portraying humanity as just one small element in a complex universe.
This biography was last updated on 06/14/2011.
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