J. F. Powers

J. F. Powers bigraphy, stories - American writer

J. F. Powers : biography

July 8, 1917 – June 12, 1999

James Farl Powers (July 8, 1917June 12, 1999) was a Roman Catholic American novelist and short-story writer who often drew his inspiration from developments in the Catholic Church, and was known for his studies of midwestern Catholic priests. Although not a priest himself, he is credited with having captured a "clerical idiom" in the postwar era in North America.

Family life

Powers met and married Betty Wahl after reviewing a sample of Wahl’s fiction. Sister Mariella Gable, OSB, a member of the College of Saint Benedict English faculty had sent him a sample of Wahl’s fiction and Powers had asked to meet the writer. Powers and Wahl were married in 1946 following Wahls’ graduation. They had five children.

Published works

  • 1947 — Prince of Darkness and Other Stories
  • 1949 — Cross Country. St. Paul, Home of the Saints.
  • 1962 — Morte d’Urban — novel
  • 1963 — Lions, Harts, Leaping Does, and Other Stories
  • 1956 — The Presence of Grace
  • 1975 — Look How the Fish Live
  • 1988 — Wheat that Springeth Green — novel
  • 1991 — The Old Bird, A Love Story
  • 1999 — The Stories of J. F. Powers
  • 2013 — Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942-1963 (edited by Katherine A. Powers)


Powers was a conscientious objector during World War II, which resulted in a prison sentence; later he worked as a hospital orderly.Jackson, Kenneth T. (ed.) (2004). The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives (Vol. 5, 1997-1999), p. 456. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-684-80663-0. His first writing experiment began as a spiritual exercise during a religious retreat.

Although Powers’s published output was rather slim, it has long been admired by a devoted band of followers who appreciate his gentle satire and astonishing ability to recreate with a few words the insular but gradually changing world of post-WWII American Catholicism. Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy praised his work, and Frank O’Connor declared him as "among the greatest living storytellers"Mel Gussow (June 17, 1999). . The New York Times

Prince of Darkness and Other Stories appeared in 1947. His story The Valiant Woman received the O. Henry Award in 1947. The Presence of Grace (1956) was also a collection of short stories. His first novel was Morte d’Urban (1962), which won the 1963 National Book Award for Fiction. . National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-26. (With acceptance speech by Powers and essay by Joshua Ferris and Fiona Maazel from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.) Look How the Fish Live appeared in 1975 and Wheat that Springeth Green in 1988.

Powers lived in Ireland for thirteen years. After moving back and forth from Ireland, Powers settled with his family in Collegeville, Minnesota, where he taught Creative writing and English literature at Saint John’s Abbey.

Following his death in 1999, the New York Review reissued his novels and published The Stories of J. F. Powers in 2000. The Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center has collected the records or Manuscript Collections Created by Powers.

Early life

Powers was born in Jacksonville, Illinois to a devout Catholic family. He graduated from Quincy College Academy, a Franciscan high school. He took English and philosophy courses at Wright Junior College and the Northwestern University in Chicago, but did not earn a college degree. He worked in various jobs including as an insurance salesman, sales clerk, editor and bookstore clerk.