Biography of Richard Powers

Richard Powers is a prolific, award-winning American author of twelve novels. His most recent novel, The Overstory, won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Powers was born in Evanston, Illinois on June 18th, 1957. When he was eleven years old, his family moved to Bangkok, Thailand, when his father accepted a position at the International School Bangkok. Powers attended that school until his freshman year in high school. He considered his time in Thailand “eye-opening,” and indulged in many intellectual pursuits. He became a voracious reader and learned to play the cello.

The family returned to the United States in 1972. He finished his studies at DeKalb High School in DeKalb, Illinois, and then matriculated at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He originally chose physics for his major but switched it to English, earning both a B.A. and an M.A. in the subject.

Not wanting to enter the rigid academic world of the English Ph.D., he worked as a computer programmer in Boston for a time. A visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts revealed to him a 1914 photograph, “Young Farmers” by August Sander, that would inspire him to write his first novel, Three Farmers on their Way to a Dance. It was published in 1985 and quickly became a critical success.

Powers moved to the Netherlands to avoid some of the publicity resulting from the book, and worked on Prisoner’s Dilemma and The Gold Bug Variations. He then embarked on a year-long stay in Cambridge, writing Operation Wandering Soul. In 1992 he returned to the United States and took a writer-in-residence position at the University of Illinois.

Powers then taught a writing workshop as the Stein Visiting Writer at Stanford (he also assisted in biochemist Aaron Straight’s lab). When he walked among the Santa Cruz Mountains’ redwoods, he felt the glimmerings of what would be The Overstory. He eventually resigned his post and moved to the Great Smoky Mountains, telling an interviewer that after he visited the Mountains numerous times in the course of his research, “[they] just got under my skin . . . So, a year later, I bought a house on the edge of the park and I’ve been living there for two years ever since.”

Powers’ other novels include Galatea 2.2, Plowing the Dark, Orfeo, The Time of Our Singing, Gain, The Echo Maker, and Generosity: An Enhancement.

Powers has also won a MacArthur “Genius” Grant as well as the National Book Award (for The Echo Maker).

He is married to Jane Powers, a French translator who works at the University of Illinois; the couple chose to have no children.

Study Guides on Works by Richard Powers

The Echo Maker is a novel written by Richard Powers in 2006. The novel mainly revolves around the story of Mark Schluter, who has an accident with his truck on a winter night in Nebraska. He is nursed back to health by his older sister Karin but...

Richard Powers' The Overstory (2018) is an ambitious, profound novel with an urgent environmental message. Spanning multiple time periods and including numerous narrators, it tells the story of a group of activists who are called to protect the...