Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Richard Powers  

Pen Name: None


Born: June 18, 1957 in Evanston, Illinois


Illinois Connection

Powers was born in Evanston and moved to Lincolnwood in the mid 60's. He attended the University of Illinois. He currently teaches at the University of Illinois and lives in Urbana.

Biographical and Professional Information

Richard Powers is an American novelist whose works explore the effects of modern science and technology. While he was born in and currently resides in Illinois, Richard Powers has lived in Bangkok, Boston, Holland and Cambridge. Most of his books have been inspired by his events in his life and the places his life has taken him.In 1992 he accepted a position as writer-in-residence at the University of Illinois and was named to Illinois's endowed Swanlund Chair in English in 1996 and named Center for Advanced Study Professor of English in 1999. Today, he continues to serve as a Swanlund Professor of English and Professor at the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois as well as write, teach, and travel.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance
ISBN: 0060975091

Harper Perennial. 2001

In the spring of 1914, renowned photographer August Sander took a photograph of three young men on their way to a country dance. This haunting image, capturing the last moments of innocence on the brink of World War I, provides the central focus of Powers's brilliant and compelling novel. As the fate of the three farmers is chronicled, two contemporary stories unfold. The young narrator becomes obsessed with the photo, while Peter Mays, a computer writer in Boston, discovers he has a personal link with it. The three stories connect in a surprising way and provide the reader with a mystery that spans a century of brutality and progress.

Prisoner's Dilemma
ISBN: 0060977086

Harper Perennial. 2002

Something is wrong with Eddie Hobson Sr., father of four, sometime history teacher, quiz master, black humorist and virtuoso invalid. His recurring fainting spells have worsened, and with his ingrained aversion to doctors, his worried family tries to discover the nature of his sickness. Meanwhile, in private, Eddie puts the finishing touches on a secret project he calls Hobbstown, a place that he promises will save him, the world and everything that's in it.

A dazzling novel of compassion and imagination, Prisoner's Dilemma is a story of the power of invalid experience.

The Gold Bug Variations
ISBN: 0688098916

William Morrow & Co. 1991

Stuart Ressler, an up-and-coming molecular biologist, finds his career sidetracked by the turmoil of the sixties, and a young couple of the 1980s tries to discover why the biologist abandoned his scientific pursuits

Operation Wandering Soul
ISBN: 006097611X

Harper Perennial. 2002

Highly imaginative and emotionally powerful, this stunning novel about childhood innocence amid the nightmarish disease and deterioration at the heart of modern Los Angeles was nominated for a National Book Award.

Galatea 2.2
ISBN: 0312423136

Picador. 2004

After four novels and several years living abroad, the fictional protagonist of Galatea 2.2—Richard Powers—returns to the United States as Humanist-in-Residence at the enormous Center for the Study of Advanced Sciences. There he runs afoul of Philip Lentz, an outspoken cognitive neurologist intent upon modeling the human brain by means of computer-based neural networks. Lentz involves Powers in an outlandish and irresistible project: to train a neural net on a canonical list of Great Books. Through repeated tutorials, the device grows gradually more worldly, until it demands to know its own name, sex, race, and reason for exisiting.

Plowing The Dark
ISBN: 0099286726

Vintage. 2002

No one who enjoyed Richard Powers's remarkable breakthrough novel, Galatea 2.2, will be surprised that he has returned to the richly promising realm of cyber-invention, one of our age's few remaining frontiers and a siren call to restless intellects. In Plowing the Dark, an old friend recruits a disillusioned New York artist named Adie Klarpol to work on "the Cavern." TeraSys, a Seattle-based company, is building this virtual environment at great expense in the hope that it will lower its enormous tax liability as well as, in the long run, provide the template for all such virtual playrooms. "Millions of dollars of funding," Adie's friend Steve tells her when she arrives on the job, "and nobody around this dump can draw worth squat." Suitably impressed by the Cavern's programming, and slowly absorbing its dazzling capacity to project vivid and convincing illusions, she sets herself the task of creating a faithful 3-D version of Rousseau's Dream. Her painstaking efforts in the Realization Lab are aided by a host of supporting characters, one of whom, Spider Lim, proves so sensitive that he gets a bruise from bumping into one of Adie's virtual tree branches. And when the central female figure appears among the foliage, Lim is irresistibly drawn in, marveling that

their first successful leaf, twirling in the Cavern darkness, had led to this--this pale, lentil body turning in his mind's dark. This scapular profile, these tow-line braids. Her hips fell somewhere on the Limaon of Pascal. The squares of her breasts' abscissas and ordinates summed to an integer. This was the math of women, a field he'd given up studying, female equations whose complexities had long ago surpassed his ability to differentiate.
Powers's lush language corresponds to Adie's vision of Rousseau's jungle, and in turn to Rousseau's own ecstatic vision. Yet there is also something elegiac in the author's lavish descriptions of the Cavern's miracles, as if he were offering a late, last flowering of words before the cultural ascendancy of the image. Great, quotable chunks weight every page. Even readers fond of extravagant prose may find Powers's verbal persistence wearying, though it argues that there are still contradictions and subtleties of mind that no image can track. --Regina Marler

The Time of Our Singing
ISBN: 0434010626

Heinemann. 2003

A magnificent, multifaceted novel about a supremely gifted -- and divided -- family, set against the backdrop of postwar America

On Easter day, 1939, at Marian Anderson's epochal concert on the Washington Mall, David Strom, a German Jewish migr scientist, meets Delia Daley, a young Philadelphia Negro studying to be a singer. Their mutual love of music draws them together, and--against all odds and better judgment--they marry. They vow to raise their children beyond time, beyond identity, steeped in song. But their three children must survive America's brutal here and now. Jonah, Joseph, and Ruth grow up during the Civil Rights era, come of age in the violent 1960s, and live out adulthood in the racially retrenched late century. Jonah, the eldest, "whose voice could make heads of state repent," follows a life in his parents' beloved classical music. Ruth, the youngest, chooses a militant activism and repudiates the white culture her brother represents. Joseph, the middle child and the narrator of this generational tale, struggles to remain connected to them both.

The Time of Our Singing is a story of self-invention, allegiance, race, cultural ownership, the compromised power of music, and the tangled loops of time that rewrite all belonging.

The Echo Maker
ISBN: 0312426437

Picador. 2007

Winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Fiction The Echo Maker is "a remarkable novel, from one of our greatest novelists, and a book that will change all who read it" (Booklist, starred review). On a winter night on a remote Nebraska road, twenty-seven-year-old Mark Schluter has a near-fatal car accident. His older sister, Karin, returns reluctantly to their hometown to nurse Mark back from a traumatic head injury. But when Mark emerges from a coma, he believes that this woman--who looks, acts, and sounds just like his sister--is really an imposter. When Karin contacts the famous cognitive neurologist Gerald Weber for help, he diagnoses Mark as having Capgras syndrome. The mysterious nature of the disease, combined with the strange circumstances surrounding Mark's accident, threatens to change all of their lives beyond recognition. In The Echo Maker, Richard Powers proves himself to be one of our boldest and most entertaining novelists.

ISBN: 1848871252

Atlantic Books. 2010


When Chicagoan Russell Stone finds himself teaching a Creative Nonfiction class, he encounters a young Algerian woman with a disturbingly luminous presence. Thassadit Amzwar’s blissful exuberance both entrances and puzzles the melancholic Russell. How can this refugee from perpetual terror be so happy? Won’t someone so open and alive come to serious harm? Wondering how to protect her, Russell researches her war-torn country and skims through popular happiness manuals. Might her condition be hyperthymia? Hypomania? Russell’s amateur inquiries lead him to college counselor Candace Weld, who also falls under Thassa’s spell. Dubbed Miss Generosity by her classmates, Thassa’s joyful personality comes to the attention of the notorious geneticist and advocate for genomic enhancement, Thomas Kurton, whose research leads him to announce the genotype for happiness.

Russell and Candace, now lovers, fail to protect Thassa from the growing media circus. Thassa’s congenital optimism is soon severely tested. Devoured by the public as a living prophecy, her genetic secret will transform both Russell and Kurton, as well as the country at large.

What will happen to life when science identifies the genetic basis of happiness? Who will own the patent? Do we dare revise our own temperaments? Funny, fast, and finally magical, Generosity celebrates both science and the freed imagination. In his most exuberant book yet, Richard Powers asks us to consider the big questions facing humankind as we begin to rewrite our own existence.


-- Gain

James Fenimore Cooper Prize, 1998 The Gold Bug Variations

TIME Magazine's Best Novel, 1991 Plowing in the Dark

Vursell Award, 2000 The Echo Maker

National Book Award, 2006Other Awards:

One of five "Writers of the Decade" by Esquire magazine, 1999

Lannan Literary Award, 1999

Corrington Award for Literary Excellence

Dos Passos Prize For Literature, 2002

Rosenthal Award

PEN/Hemingway Special Citation

W. H. Smith Literary Award (U.K.)

Ambassador Book Award of the English Speaking Union

American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellow

Illinois Author of the Year, Illinois Association of Teachers of English, 2001