Ron Powers

Ron Powers was born in 1941, in Hannibal, Missouri just more than 100 years after Samuel Clemens and his family moved to the small Mississippi river town. He left Hannibal at age 17, close to the same age Clemens left, and like Clemens, he's made his living writing about American culture and taping into the American psyche.

Both writers seem to have been forged by the same atmosphere and culture. Despite the nearly 100 years between their stays in Hannibal, Powers said that the town captivated him and drew him closer to the legendary author.

"Twain was able to dip back into his boyhood, and find what was special in the town," Powers said. "100 years after Twain's childhood I found the town in the 40s and early 50s retained a lot of the specialness and the power of the place that inspired Clemens.

"Hannibal's a river town, kind of out of the way, like a little universe out there by itself. It also has terrific terrain, even around the downtown area. A kid has a lot of opportunities to let the imagination run free."

The town had a major impact on both Twain and Powers, and both used experiences from the town in books they wrote. Twain's classics The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn both have their roots in Hannibal. Two of Powers books, White Town Drowsing: Journeys to Hannibal and Dangerous Water: A Biography of the Boy Who Became Mark Twain are also based on "America's Hometown."

White Town Drowsing, was published in 1986, and is an account of the failed attempt to "package" Hannibal on the occasion of Mark Twain's 150th birthday, which took place in 1985.

In June 1999, Dangerous Water was published. The book is a study of the important Hannibal boyhood years of Samuel Clemens. The years that helped to mold the author and give him insights in his later wittings. Powers said he originally set out to write a full scale biography on Clemens, but as he researched him, he found that not many biographers had focused on Clemens boyhood. Powers said it was Clemens boyhood that was the most crucial part of his life.

"When you look at his darkness, how he became so bitter in his old age, it just shows he never really recovered from the sorrows of his boyhood," Powers said. "But, it's not a pessimistic book. It shows how he saved his sanity by converting the terror and sorrow into humor. He gave America it's distinct since of humor, or at least enshrined it."

Powers may not have the legendary status his Hannibal counterpart does, but his list of accomplishments is no less impressive. In 1973, as the TV-radio columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, he became the first TV critic to win the Pulitzer Prize. Later, as an on-air TV commentator, he won a Chicago Emmy, in 1976 and a National Emmy, in 1985, for his work on CBS News Sunday Morning.

He's written for the New York Times "Book Review" and has been a columnist for Chicago Sun-Times and GQ. Powers main work has been writing books. Powers has also hosted an 11-part series called, "Spirit of Place," for The Learning Channel as well as beaning published in a wide verity of other publications, including Preservation Magazine, Esquire, and Playboy to name a few.

His main love, and where he's made his living, has been witting books. He's written two novels, six works of nonfiction and two collections of previously published work.

Currently, Powers is working on his 10th book, The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle, which is slated to be released by May 2001. Powers said he enjoys writing about American communities in small towns and the people who live there.

"I think you can tell the most about people by looking at American life at the small town level," Powers said. " I have a lot of interest in that. Being that I'm from Hannibal. It's a question of can we survive suburban expansion?

"I feel we're defined by the place we're from. Some of the best writing have come from people writing about where they're from. Twain did it exceptionally well, and that's why I teach in my classes."

Besides working for different forms of the media and writing, Powers has also been a teacher. He spent 16 years teaching for Bredlow-writers conference, and from May 28 through June 4, 1994, he served as a faculty member at the Salzburg Seminar in Salzburg, Austria. He has also taught writing at Middlebury College, in Middlebury, Vermont.

Today, Powers still writes and lives in Middlebury with his wife Honoree. Their sons Dean and Kevin attend school in Colorado and Michigan, respectively.

Courier-Post stories about Powers:
Powers Reception Held
Powers writes about Twain's childhood

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