Author Spotlight: Richard Powers

If you like well-written fiction with an environmental focus, check out the work of Richard Powers. This blog post will discuss the author’s two most recent novels, The Overstory and Bewilderment.

Richard Powers is known for gorgeously written fiction that spans complex subjects and often include elements of science and technology. A critically acclaimed but accessible writer, Powers has received a MacArthur Fellowship and won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

His two most recent novels, The Overstory and Bewilderment, are based around environmental themes, allowing the reader to put a human face on some of the challenges facing our natural world, from forest destruction to climate change.

Read on for a description of each of these novels.

The Overstory

Dubbed a “love story for the Earth,” The Overstory is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel whose complex storyline follows a group of characters engaged in environmental activism. The stories are wide-ranging and span “antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest” and more.

The plot of The Overstory is too difficult, the stories too delicately intertwined, to adequately portray here. So, try this:

Imagine two characters living in a giant tree for months to protest its being logged. Imagine the decisions they must make, the closeness the characters develop with the tree and their own bodies, how one’s life changes as chainsaws rev.

Then imagine a writer so powerful that he makes you feel like you are in that tree with those characters.

That’s just one of multiple threads in The Overstory.

It’s a beautiful novel that will make you appreciate the complexity of trees (if you already don’t), and ask, what can I do to help?


Published in 2021, Bewilderment is particularly timely as it addresses climate change by telling the story of an astrophysicist father, Theo, who is trying to help his young son, Robbie, face the grief of a dead mother and a dying planet.

From a child’s pure viewpoint, Robbie feels planetary destruction in a way that his father cannot, which fuels the boy’s meltdowns and pushes his school to threaten expulsion. When his desperate father enrolls him in an experimental neurofeedback program, Robbie repatterns his mind on his deceased mother’s brain, and the results are…well, we won’t spoil the plot.

Bewilderment marries gorgeous nature description—fans of the Smoky Mountains are in for a treat! —with scientific detail, and it does not shy away from our current political climate. Though the novel is set in the near future, the descriptions mirror current events (such as a social media-addicted president, a lone teenage climate activist, etc.), which move the reader to contemplate the part each of us plays in planetary destruction.

The magic of this novel is in the relationship between father and son, and in the boy’s unbridled love for the natural world. Be warned: it’s not a happy story. Anyone who reads this book will be emotionally affected and forced to ask tough questions; perhaps that’s what we need.