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Richard Powers

Richard Powers

2006 National Book Award | Won 1989 ‘Genius’ grant | Class of 1980

The 1993 novel he finished while a writer-as-residence at the UI, ‘Operation Wandering Soul,’ was named a National Book Award finalist but didn’t win Richard Powers the big prize.

Two years later, ‘Galatea 2.2’ — for which he leaned on his experience as an adjunct faculty member at the Beckman Institute — was well-received but not the hailed as the best novel of 1995.

So, when the UI physics major turned two-degree literature grad found out that his 2006 novel, ‘The Echo Maker,’ had made the final cut for the National Book Award, Powers didn’t get his hopes up.

“I had been a nominee before and the one-in-five odds aren’t great,” he says. “But I went ahead and rented a tux and headed to New York and a fancy hotel in Times Square for the ceremony, perfectly resigned to a life of being always a bridesmaid.

“The finalists were all given medals that they were supposed to wear to the ceremony, in the event they were called to the stage. I had walked the several blocks from my own hotel to the one where the ceremony was to take place before I realized I had left my medal back at my hotel. So I ran back to my hotel, grabbed the medal and dashed back through the streets of Midtown in my tux, like a criminal on the run from the police. 

“I got to the ceremony just as they were starting. When they called my name, I couldn’t take it in, but I was glad to be properly kitted out.”