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Prize-winning professor to speak about writing in Chicago, on campus

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
(217) 333-2177;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Richard Powers, a prize-winning fiction writer and professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will deliver two humanities talks in November, one in Chicago, the other on the Urbana campus.

On Nov. 9 (Saturday), Powers, Swanlund Professor of English and Professor at the Center for Advanced Study, will speak at the Chicago Humanities Festival XIII. His topic is "When Software is Like a Story." The talk, part of Series 21 on "Beautiful Minds," which requires registration and a fee, is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at Roosevelt University, 430 Michigan Ave., Chicago. Howard Gardner and Oliver Sacks also are Series 21 speakers.

On Nov. 19 (Tuesday), Powers will give the Humanities Lecture on the Urbana campus. His talk, titled "Literary Devices: Fiction in the Digital Age," begins at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, 405 N. Mathews Ave., Urbana. It is free and open to the public.

Powers said that he would speculate in both talks "about the ways that fiction may change as our machines get increasingly more sophisticated at telling stories. I explore the ways that advances in digital intelligence change the ways we think about and use narrative, not to mention the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves."

Powers was awarded a MacArthur "genius" fellowship in 1989. Ten years later, he received the prestigious Lannan Literary Award for the body of his work. In 1999, Esquire magazine named him one of five "Writers of the Decade" (along with Don Delillo, Nicholson Baker, David Foster Wallace and Martin Amis).

At Illinois, Powers teaches both undergraduate and graduate fiction writing as well as courses in multimedia authoring and publishing.

Powers is the author of seven novels.

Powers’ eighth novel, "The Time of Our Singing" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), will be released in January. The Oct. 15 issue of Kirkus Reviews wrote that "The power of music in its relation to a racially divided family and culture is dramatized with unprecedented brilliance in this panoramic novel … Powers demonstrates that he knows as much about musical technique, theory and history as he seems to know about almost everything else. The most accessible and powerful fiction yet from a major American writer who, against all odds, just keeps getting better and better."

Powers became writer-in-residence at Illinois in 1992. Born in Evanston, Ill., he spent five years, from ages 11 to 16, with his family in Thailand. He later enrolled as a physics major at Illinois, but switched to English after taking an honors course taught by a charismatic professor of English, Robert Schneider. In 1980, Powers moved to Boston after having earned a master’s degree in English, also from Illinois.

He worked as a computer programmer until he chanced upon a painting in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts that would change his life. Powers based his first novel, "Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance," on a 1914 photograph by August Sander. According to biographer Joseph Dewey, the image haunted Powers.

His other books are "Gain," "Galatea 2.2," "Operation Wandering Soul," "Plowing the Dark," "Prisoner’s Dilemma" and "The Gold Bug Variations."

The Humanities Lectureship was established in 1977 by the Humanities Council of the Illinois College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to recognize and honor a faculty member in the humanities for outstanding achievement, and to provide an opportunity for colleagues and students to hear a member of their own scholarly community deliver an address reflecting their writing and scholarship. The LAS Web site is

Contact Cara Augspurger, (217) 244-4152 or, for more information about the Humanities Lecture.

The Chicago Humanities Festival Web site is at