CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Acclaimed novelist Richard Powers, the Swanlund Chair and Center for Advanced Study Professor of English at the University of Illinois, has been elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Composed of 250 architects, artists, composers and writers, the American Academy of Arts and Letters fosters and sustains interest in literature, music and the fine arts by identifying and encouraging individual artists. It confers about 50 awards and prizes annually totaling about $1 million, and funds stage readings, performances of new works and art exhibitions and purchases works of art to donate to museums.
Election to the academy, based in New York, is considered the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in the U.S. Members are elected to the academy for life, and the roster of past academicians includes literary giants such as John Cheever, Sinclair Lewis, Carl Sandburg and Edith Wharton. Current members of the academy’s department of literature include E.L. Doctorow, John Irving, Joyce Carol Oates, Gore Vidal and Elie Wiesel.
“I’m overwhelmed—and a little terrified—to be elected to a group that counts among its members such a Who’s Who of American literature,” Powers said. “It’s amazing to join an organization whose seven founders included William Dean Howells and Mark Twain and whose earliest members included Henry Adams and Henry James.
“When I go out to New York for the induction ceremony in May, I’ll be meeting many of the people at the very top of my lifelong pantheon of living writers. I feel like I’m crashing a pretty exclusive party.”
Powers’ work has garnered numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including the academy’s Rosenthal Award (1986) and the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award (2000). He also has received several National Book Critics Circle nominations, the John Dos Passos Prize, the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Historical Fiction, a Lannan Literary Award and a PEN/Hemingway Special Citation.
Powers’ ninth novel, “The Echo Maker,” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) won the National Book Award for fiction in 2006. “Operation Wandering Soul” (HarperCollins), his third novel, was a National Book Award finalist in 1993.
Powers also is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the MacArthur Foundation.
Writer-in-residence at Illinois since 1992, Powers also holds a full-time faculty appointment in the cognitive neuroscience group of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois. His work at Beckman provided the basis for his fifth novel, “Galatea 2.2” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995).
Powers’ most recent novel, “Generosity: An Enhancement” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), was released in September.