ON-AIR: UI Professor wins National Book Award

By Christine Kim

It all started on a drive to his mother’s house in Arizona. Along-side the road, groups of 3-foot-tall Sandhill cranes gathered in a harvested cornfield for an annual spring ritual.

This fascination led to the start of Swanlund Professor of English Richard Powers’ novel, “The Echo Maker.”

“The Echo Maker” recently won the 2006 National Book Award for fiction.

Powers says “The Echo Maker” opened up a new territory for him.

“It’s mainly more of a page-turner, a character-driven story. So perhaps that combination of preserving a little bit of the scientific big picture with a little bit more of an accessible plot-driven story gives it a unique feel.”

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Powers’s novel revolves around the themes of ecology and neuro-psychology. He spent four years reading and researching the areas, incorporating his fascination of cranes. He traveled to Nebraska and Indiana where he experienced the gathering of hundreds of birds lining a narrow stretch of river as they migrated.

“The staging of the spring migration on the plaid is really one of the outstanding natural spectacles that you can have anywhere in the world.”

Powers says this literary prize is a powerful encouragement to keep working and a reassurance that there’s an audience whom he can connect to through his writing.

He has written eight other novels, one of which was nominated for the same award in 1993.