Richard Powers biography

Author Biography  | Books by this Author  | Readalikes

Richard Powers
photo: Marion Ettlinger

Richard Powers

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 twentieth century."

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 five 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), Generosity (2009), Orfeo (2014), The Overstory (2018), and Bewilderment (2021).

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.

Richard Powers's website

This bio was last updated on 09/03/2021. In a perfect world, we would like to keep all of BookBrowse's biographies up to date, but with many thousands of lives to keep track of it's simply impossible to do. So, if the date of this bio is not recent, you may wish to do an internet search for a more current source, such as the author's website or social media presence. If you are the author or publisher and would like us to update this biography, send the complete text and we will replace the old with the new.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Richard Powers at BookBrowse
Bewilderment jacket The Overstory jacket Orfeo jacket Generosity jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Richard Powers but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Anil Ananthaswamy

    Anil Ananthaswamy

    Anil Ananthaswamy is former deputy news editor and current consultant for New Scientist. He is a guest editor at UC Santa Cruz's renowned science-writing program and teaches an annual science journalism workshop at the ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Echo Maker

    Try:
    The Man Who Wasn't There
    by Anil Ananthaswamy

  • Paul Auster

    Paul Auster

    Paul Benjamin Auster was born on February 3, 1947 in Newark, New Jersey.  His father, Samuel Auster, was a landlord; his mother, Queenie was about 13 years younger than her husband; the marriage was not a happy one. ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Echo Maker

    Try:
    Invisible
    by Paul Auster

We recommend 46 similar authors

View all 46 Readalikes

Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Chasing Me to My Grave
    Chasing Me to My Grave
    by Winfred Rembert
    Chasing Me to My Grave might be the most authentic, vulnerable autobiography you'll ever read. ...
  • Book Jacket: My Monticello
    My Monticello
    by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
    In the incendiary opening story of My Monticello, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson's debut collection, a ...
  • Book Jacket: The Wrong End of the Telescope
    The Wrong End of the Telescope
    by Rabih Alameddine
    Rabih Alameddine's The Wrong End of the Telescope follows Mina, a Lebanese American doctor who ...
  • Book Jacket: Lightning Strike
    Lightning Strike
    by William Kent Krueger
    It is the summer of 1963 in Tamarack County, Minnesota. Just outside the small town of Aurora, ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky
by Margaret Verble
A deliciously strange and daringly original novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Margaret Verble.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Flesh & Blood
    by N. West Moss

    This beautifully written memoir offers insight, understanding, and joy.

Who Said...

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people... but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y A B Up T W T

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.