Richard Powers

Richard Powers

Past Event: Wednesday, March 5, 2008

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

Literary Arts Icon

Literary Arts

Sponsored by Gull Industries.

“We’re all driven by hosts of urges, some chaotic and Dionysian, some formal and Apollonian,” Richard Powers said in an interview with The Believer last year. “The need for knowledge is as passionate as any other human obsession. And the wildest of obsessions has its hidden structure.”

Structure is an important idea for Powers, the rare novelist with a truly scientific mind. When he talks about story structure specifically, the levels “from diction on up to meaning,” he creates a metaphor of cells and nuclei, organs and systems. He studied rhetoric, math, and physics in college, and it has stuck with him—his mind caught in the web of the scientific process while his eyes are trained on social and emotional interactions, beautiful images, sounds, and language.

Powers grew up in Illinois and Bangkok, Thailand, where his father served as principal of an international school. As a boy, he was an accomplished musician, playing the cello, guitar, clarinet, and saxophone, and he read voraciously, especially science and biography. He attended the University of Illinois, earning both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. From there he moved to Boston and worked as a computer programmer, a job that proved easier to land and far more lucrative than teaching literature. On Saturday mornings, when admission was free, he would roam through the Museum of Fine Arts, and it was there that he officially launched his writing career. He happened upon Arthur Sander’s 1914 photograph, “Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance,” depicting three young German men walking along a road on the eve of World War I. “All of my previous year’s random reading just consolidated and converged on this one moment, this image,” Powers said, “which seemed to me to be the birth photograph of the twentieth century.” Two days later he gave notice and sat down to write his first book.

Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance explored the idea of looking for and at the self through the lens of history, interweaving the stories of two individuals whose lives intersect thanks, in part, to the Sander photograph. The novel received high praise and, buoyed by the acclaim, Powers moved to Holland to embark upon his second and third novels, Prisoner’s Dilemma and The Gold Bug Variations. In 1992, he was invited to be a writer-in-residence at his alma mater, the University of Illinois, and he has taught there ever since. In 1998, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Along the way, his novels Operation Wandering Soul, Galatea 2.2, Gain, Plowing the Dark, and The Time of Our Singing have garnered wide readership and praise, along with a MacArthur Fellowship (1989), a Lannan Literary Award (1999), a Corrington Award for Literary Excellence, and the Dos Passos Prize for Literature. The Echo Maker, “a haunting novel about memory, identity, and the boundaries of neuroscience,” according to Booklist, won the National Book Award and numerous “Best Book of the Year” awards in 2006. Powers was named one of five “Writers of the Decade” by Esquire magazine in 1999. It would not be surprising to see his name again on the list for the first decade of the new millennium.

Excerpt from The Echo Maker (2006)

“Echolalia,” Dr. Hayes called it. “Perseveration. He’s imitating what he hears.”

Karin would not be dimmed. “If he can say a word, it must mean something, right?”

“Ah! You’re pushing up against questions neurology can’t answer yet.”

Mark’s speech traced the same tight loops his walking did. One afternoon it was “chick, chick, chick, chick,” for most of an hour. It sounded like a symphony to her. Rousing him for a walk, Karin said, “Come on, Mark, let’s tie your shoes.” This launched a barrage of “tie shoes, tissues, die your noose.” He kept it up until she, too, felt brain-damaged. But exhilarated: in the hypnotic repetition, she thought she heard “too tight shoes.” A few loops later, he produced, “Shoofly, don’t tie me.”

The words had to mean something. Even if they weren’t quite thoughts, he flung them with the force of meaning. She was walking him down a crowded hospital corridor when Mark popped out with “Got a lot on our plates right now.”

She threw her arms around him and squeezed him in joy. He knew. He could say. All the reward she needed.

He pulled free and turned away. “You’re turning that dirt into clay.”

She followed his gaze. There in the hall’s hum, she finally heard it. With an animal precision hers had lost, his ears picked up stray pieces of the surrounding conversations and wove them together. Parrots exhibited more native intelligence. She pulled his chest up against her face and began to cry.

“We’ll get through this,” he said, his arms dead at his sides. She pushed him back and examined his face. His eyes said less than nothing.

Selected Work
The Echo Maker (2006)
The Time of Our Singing (2003)
Plowing the Dark (2000)
Gain (1998)
Galatea 2.2. (1995)
Operation Wandering Soul (1993)
The Gold Bug Variations (1991)
Prisoner’s Dilemma (1988)
Three Farmers On Their Way to a Dance (1985)

Richard Powers’ homepge biography
The Believer interview
Interview for
Richard Powers in Conjunctions

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Bus
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by bus and light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.


SAL is for everyone. We want all audience members to be able to experience our lectures and readings regardless of accessibility concerns. Accessibility services at our venues are provided at no cost to ticket holders. If you find you need to sit closer to the stage to accommodate your needs but find the cost of a Patron ticket prohibitive, then please contact us—we will seat you where you need to be, regardless of cost.

Open Captioning occurs at every event that takes place at Benaroya Hall. It is also always available upon request for all events in our other halls, with a two-week minimum notice. To make a request for Open Captioning services, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

Assisted Listening Devices, including Hearing Loop Assisted Listening Systems, are available at all of our venues, with the exception of Broadway Performance Hall. If you would like more information, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

ASL-Interpretated Events are always available upon request, with a two-week minimum notice. To make a request for ASL interpretation, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

Wheelchair Accessible Ticketing is available in all sections at our venues, and and our venues are fully accessible to ticket holders with physical mobility concerns. If you would like more information, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

For any further questions or requests, or to offer Seattle Arts & Lectures feedback on how we can be more accessible and inclusive, please reach out to our Patron Services Manager at or 206.621.2230×10.