Richard Powers Oct. 16 and 18

Visiting Hurst Professor is author of The Echo Maker and Generosity: An Enhancement

On a winter’s night, on a lonely Nebraska highway, a flock of sandhill cranes lurches skyward, roused by squealing brakes and crunching metal.

The driver, Mark Schluter, lies in a coma. His sister, Karin, races to the hospital. But when Mark regains consciousness, he refuses to recognize Karin. He believes this woman — who looks, acts and sounds just like his sister — is really an imposter.

So begins Richard Powers’ National Book Award-winning The Echo Maker (2006). Over the course of 10 novels, Powers has emerged as one of today’s most challenging and philosophically minded authors, exploring questions of identity as it intersects with genetics, neuroscience, artificial intelligence and other modern technologies.

At 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, Powers, the Visiting Hurst Professor of Creative Writing at Washington University in St. Louis, will present a talk on the craft of fiction for The Writing Program in Arts & Sciences.

In addition, Powers will read from his work at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18.

Both events — presented as part of The Writing Program’s fall Reading Series — are free and open to the public and take place in Hurst Lounge, Room 201 Duncker Hall. A reception and book signing immediately will follow each event.

For more information, call (314) 935-7428.

Richard Powers

In addition to The Echo Maker, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Powers is the author of Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1985), Prisoner’s Dilemma (1988), The Gold Bug Variations (1991), Operation Wandering Soul (1993), Galatea 2.2 (1995), Gain (1998), Plowing the Dark (2000) and The Time of Our Singing (2003).

His most recent title, Generosity: An Enhancement (2009), playfully posits the discovery of a gene for happiness, and the media circus that follows.

“Beneath the brainy conceits of his novels, Powers is a full-blown romantic,” notes Bookforum, “a believer in passionate intelligence, confident that art can shatter the false barriers of difference.”

The New York Times adds that Powers’ “philosophical musings have the energy of a thriller.”

Powers teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he holds the Swanlund Chair as well as appointments in the Center for Advanced Study and the Beckman Institute Cognitive Neuroscience group. His numerous awards include a MacArthur Fellowship and a Lannan Literary Award. In 2010, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.