Kevin Powers on his influences, favorite books, & more

Kevin Powers’ first book, The Yellow Birds, won the Pen/Hemingway prize for first book and was a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction. Powers’ new novel, A Shout in the Ruins, weaves together stories that span over a century of life in the post-Civil War South. Kevin Powers was kind enough to answer our questions ahead of his visit to the store to speak about the book on Friday, June 8th at 7pm.

What are you reading these days?

I just finished Lawrence Wright’s God Save Texas and loved every word of it. Next up are Circe by Madeline Miller and John Williams’ Butcher’s Crossing.

What books did you love as a child?

My early loves were Where the Red Fern Grows, anything by Tolkien, and just about any pulp western I could find at our local used book store. I also loved the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms fantasy series. When I got a bit older I fell in love with Dylan Thomas’ poetry and that opened up a whole new world of reading for me.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

Knowing what done looks like.

What’s the best thing about writing?

It’s the best way I know of to really find out what you think.

What’s your favorite word?

Grace.

What’s a sentence you’ve loved and remembered from a book?

“And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world.” – Steinbeck, East of Eden

Do you have any weird writing habits?

I sometimes have difficulty reading my own handwriting, especially if I let too much time pass between the writing and the attempt to read it. I have full notebooks that I can only decipher half of.

Who are your literary influences?

I’ve always admired Larry Levis and Yusef Komunyakaa. In fiction, if I were to ever get half as good as Marilynne Robinson, I’d be pretty happy.

What’s your favorite place to write?

In my office at my house. There’s a nice view of Oakwood Cemetery. It’s quiet and all my books are there.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

I’d be a writer no matter what. But I guess you mean if nobody wanted to publish my stuff. I think I’d want to teach high school history or work as a ranger in a National Park. Maybe in Glacier or somewhere in Colorado.

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