Richard Powers Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Richard Powers has been called reclusive, but the term is misleading. Although he struggles to maintain a low profile, fearing that celebrity will make inordinate demands on the time he needs to write, he is outgoing. Interviewers find him cooperative but firm in his refusal to share the personal information around which interviews with notables often revolve.

This reluctance is not a pose Powers has adopted to project some calculated public image. He firmly believes, however, that one’s writing must stand on its merits, that details about the life of an author or an author’s autograph on the flyleaf of a book should affect neither the public perception of what authors produce nor the value of their books.

Powers’s novels display an easy command of specific information about an amazing range of subjects, from literature to art to photography to science to music to history to astronomy to folklore. His knowledge in this daunting array of subjects is not superficial: He has a thorough understanding of the subjects he chooses to explore and he absorbs complex information quickly.

An encompassing influence on Powers’s literary structure is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, stemming from his exposure to Bach’s music as a cellist. Elements of Bach’s harmony and, particularly, Bach’s counterpoint underlie the structure of Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1985) and Prisoner’s Dilemma (1988). The Gold Bug Variations (1991) draws its title in part from Bach’s The Goldberg Variations; its structure stems from Powers’s comprehensive understanding of Bach’s inventions.

There are thirty Goldberg variations; Powers’s novel has thirty chapters. Bach’s Variations were based upon four notes or musical phrases; the number four, a controlling element in Powers’s novel, is fundamental to an understanding of deoxyribonucleic acid...

(The entire section is 793 words.)

Richard Powers Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Powers is among the most intellectually complex novelists to appear since James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon. His novels are the fruits of a Renaissance mentality. Powers’s encompassing grasp of abstract ideas is impressive; more impressive still is his ability to link them to the compelling central reference points his fiction creates and to do so with a literary style consistently and dependably excellent.

Richard Powers Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Richard Powers’s roots in Illinois are deep and of long standing. Born in Evanston in 1957, he was the fourth of Donna and Richard Franklin Powers’ five children. He attended elementary school in Lincolnwood, a heavily Jewish suburb of Chicago. On Jewish holidays, the Powers children were among a handful of non-Jewish children attending school.

When Powers was eleven years old, his father, a secondary school principal, accepted a position at the International School in Bangkok, Thailand. During his family’s five-year stay in Thailand, Powers perfected his skill in playing the cello, heightened his understanding of Johann Sebastian Bach’s complex compositions, and joined a chorus that traveled within Asia to perform. His vocal abilities were substantial, and his exposure to Asian culture had a considerable effect on him.

Upon returning to the United States, Powers’s family settled in De Kalb, Illinois, where the father became a school administrator and Donna Powers worked as a secretary and administrative assistant for the Wurlitzer Corporation. Powers, who was six feet, seven inches tall, played high school basketball, but he also read voraciously, taking careful notes on his reading.

When he completed high school, Powers entered the University of Illinois at Urbana, an institution familiar to him because his family had lived near the campus in the mid-1960’s. His father had completed a doctorate there in 1967....

(The entire section is 572 words.)

Richard Powers Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Richard Stephen Powers, born in Evanston, Illinois, on June 18, 1957, is the son of Richard Franklin Powers, a school administrator, and Donna Powers, a secretary and administrative assistant. In 1968 Powers, his parents, and his four siblings relocated to Bangkok, Thailand, where for the next four years the father was an administrator in the International School of Bangkok.

Returning to the United States when Powers was fifteen, the family settled in De Kalb, Illinois. In 1975 he entered the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a physics major but soon became an English and rhetoric major. Having maintained a straight-A grade average, he completed his bachelor’s degree in 1978 and a master’s degree in English in late 1979, moving to Boston early the following year.

In Boston, he became a computer programmer and data processor. He was employed briefly by a large corporation, but, pressured to advance into management, he quit his job, became a freelance computer specialist, and devoted himself to writing. During this period, he stumbled upon a photograph, “Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance” (1914), by August Sander. The date was significant: Europe verged on war.

The photograph became the basis for Powers’s first novel, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, a multiplot work that won the PEN/Faulkner Award and was among the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award. With the publication of this well-received initial novel, Powers clearly established himself as a serious author, comparable in many ways to such pioneering European writers as James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust, Hermann Hesse, and others at the...

(The entire section is 694 words.)