Richard Powers named to first Swanlund Chair

By Dave Porreca

Richard Powers, an award-winning novelist whose recent work has explored
the complex relationship between computer technology and human
intelligence, has been appointed to a Swanlund Chair and been named a
professor of English at the UI.

The chair is the first of 10 endowed professorships made possible by a gift
from the late Maybelle Leland Swanlund.

"Maybelle Swanlund honored the memory of her husband in one of the most
important ways possible," Chancellor Michael Aiken said. "By creating
endowed chairs in his name, she was celebrating the knowledge he gained as
a student at the UI. The gift also provides the next generation of leaders
the opportunity to study, as Mr. and Mrs. Swanlund did, with some of the
brightest minds our nation has to offer."

Swanlund, who died Aug. 10, 1993, provided an endowment of $1.2 million for
each chair in order to attract leading figures to the university or to
recognize established or emerging leaders already on the faculty.

Powers, who received a five-year MacArthur "genius" fellowship in 1989, was
selected from an initial field of 80 candidates nominated last fall by UI
department heads.

"He is one of the brainiest and most distinctive writers in the country,"
said Richard Wheeler, the head of the English department. "Rick has had
enthusiastic admirers in the department since he was a student here."

Powers, 38, graduated from the UI with a bachelor's degree in English in
1978 and a master's degree in English in 1980. He has served as an
artist-in-residence in the department since 1992.

Powers has written five published novels: "Three Farmers on Their Way to a
Dance" (Morrow, 1985), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle
Award; "Prisoner's Dilemma" (Morrow, 1988); "Gold Bug Variations" (Morrow,
1991), Time magazine's book of the year and a finalist for the National
Book Critics Circle Award; "Operation Wandering Soul" (Morrow, 1993), a
finalist for the National Book Award; and "Galatea 2.2" (Farrar, Straus &
Giroux, 1995), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

As holder of a Swanlund Chair, Powers will receive a salary stipend and
research support. He will teach a mix of undergraduate and graduate
courses, beginning with a graduate seminar on computers and literature next

As an artist-in-residence, Powers has worked with independent-study
students, addressed classes as a guest speaker, and assisted with the
development of a multimedia center in the English Building.

Swanlund, who graduated from the UI in 1932 with a bachelor's degree in
library studies, was a major contributor to the university. She donated
$2.5 million for the construction of the Lester H. Swanlund Administration
Building, named after her late husband, and $3.5 million for the renovation
of Harker Hall, which houses the UI Foundation's offices.

Her husband, who died in 1971, was president of the Chicago-based Brunswick
Credit Corp. He graduated from the UI in 1932 with a bachelor's degree in

UIUC -- Inside Illinois -- 1996/04-18-96