United States of America
Samuel Fischer Guest Professorship for Literature 2009
Richard Powers, born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1957, is among the best-known authors in the United States. With novels like 2003’s The Time of our Singing and 2006’s The Echo Maker, he has become an international best-selling author, recognised by readers and critics alike. His award-winning novel Orfeo was published in the United States in 2014.
That's the advantage of being a novelist: you can go anywhere you want, and you should do, too.
The recipe for success lies in his highly effective literary processing of major social topics, such as racial problems, neurosciences or genetic research. These grand stories are linked together with excursions into classical music, mathematics or other artistic scientific fields. And so, the reader not only goes through a reading experience, but also, at the same time, an educational experience. It may be this mix that makes his books so successful. „Whether I write a book about molecular genetics or virtual reality, about music or photography – it’s always about our hopes, fears and longings. There’s no difference between our scientific disciplines and us,” said Powers on Deutschlandradio Kultur in 2011. His inventiveness reminds one of the “later Thomas Mann and early Thomas Pynchon”, concluded the great American author, John Updike, when talking about his colleague.
An inquisitive nature and a broad interest could already be seen developing at an early age in Powers, who spent his childhood in Bangkok. He studied physics, later literary studies, worked as a programmer, and trained himself as a classical musician (cello). His first novel was the result of a real educational experience. In the museum, he saw a photo of the German photographer, August Sander. It showed three farmers from the Westerwald on their way to a fair. The photo and the underlying story fascinated Powers so much that he abandoned his job as a programmer and wrote a novel. It appeared in 1985 under the title Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance.
Powers has published eleven novels as of 2015, each of which addresses contemporary issues. “That’s the advantage of being a novelist,” says Powers, “you can go anywhere you want, and should do, too.”
He has been repeatedly drawn to teaching. He is professor emeritus at the University of Illinois. In the 2009 summer semester, he held a Samuel Fischer Guest Professorship for Literature –established in 1998 in cooperation with the DAAD – at the FU Berlin. The topic he chose for his course reflected his particular literary interest, between fiction and fact: Factitious Fiction, Fictitious Fact.