Home Book editor Richard Powers speaks for the trees

Richard Powers speaks for the trees


On a weekend visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, he saw a 1914 photograph of farm boys in Germany and began to think about the birth of the Machine Age. Inspired by the characters in the photo, he quit his programming job and began writing his first album in 1985, “Three Farmers on the Road to a Dance”. He was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, the first in a series of accolades, including a MacArthur “genius” scholarship and a National Book Award.

For much of his career, Powers has used fiction to probe humanity’s relationship with technology, and how our creativity and ingenuity has come to define and trap us. He has been called “our eminent novelist of ideas”, “our greatest living novelist” and “the best novelist you have never heard of”. In his books “The Gold Bug Variations”, “Galatea 2.2”, “Plowing the Dark” and “Orfeo” he wrote with precision about molecular DNA, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and gene editing. , but more fundamentally it seemed to be questioning what makes us human and how transmutable those qualities are.

In retrospect, Powers feels that all of his novels pointed to “The Overstory,” which he was inspired to write after seeing a redwood tree while hiking in Northern California. “When you stand in front of a living being as wide as a house and as high as a football field is long and nearly two millennia old, and it is still working on its plan,” he said. said, “you’re just starting to say, I missed something obvious here.

Before writing the novel, he “couldn’t tell a poplar from a maple,” he said, but he read over 120 books on trees and learned to identify dozens of species. After its publication and enthusiastic reception, Powers became not only a literary star, but also a soft-spoken eco-warrior and environmental prophet.

“For the first time I could think of in non-children’s literature, a tree was a character in the deepest and most complete sense,” said environmentalist and author Bill McKibben. “It’s so rare to have something that we normally think of as inanimate animated in such a spectacular way.”

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