“I write the way you might arrange flowers. Not every try works, but each one launches another. Every constraint, even dullness, frees up a new design.” – Richard Powers
Born on this date in 1957, Powers is noted for exploring the effects of science and technology, something he says are essential to modern writing. “I think that if the novel's task is to describe where we find ourselves and how we live now,” he explained, “the novelist must take a good, hard look at the most central facts of contemporary life - technology and science.”
A native of Evanston, IL, Powers spent a number of his formative years in Thailand where his father had a key position at the International School Bangkok. While there, he developed both writing and musical skills, becoming proficient in cello, guitar, saxophone and clarinet, studying voice and vocal performance, and also immersing himself in books, especially the classics.
His wonderful book The Time of Our Singing is a story about the musician children of an interracial couple who meet at Marian Anderson’s legendary concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. The book shows off Powers’ knowledge of both music and physics while also exploring both race relations and the burdens of talent.
His most honored novel, 2006’s The Echo Maker won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Since then he’s won dozens of other major prizes, including a MacArthur (Genius) Grant, the Lannan Literary Award and the Dos Passos Prize for Literature.
Now teaching at Stanford, his advice to students is to delve into whatever opportunities arise. “If you're going to immerse yourself in a project for three years, why not stake out a chunk of the world that is completely alien to you … and go traveling?”
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