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Alumnus receives Guggenheim Fellowship for novel set in Richmond following Civil War

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Kevin Powers, an author, poet and graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, has been named a 2015 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in support of his forthcoming second work of fiction.

Powers, a Richmond resident and Iraq War veteran, received widespread recognition for his 2012 debut novel, "The Yellow Birds," which was a finalist for the National Book Award, named one of The New York Times' 100 Most Notable Books of 2012 and received the 2012 The Guardian First Book Award and the 2013 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.

The Guggenheim Fellowship is awarded each year to those who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts. Roughly 200 are awarded each year, selected from between 3,500 and 4,000 applications.

"To be among the list of people who have received the fellowship and completed work with the help of the Guggenheim Foundation, it's just really humbling," Powers said.

The Guggenheim fellowship will support Powers as he continues to work on his second novel, which will tell the story of a young woman married to a plantation owner ruined by the end of the Civil War.

"I guess [the novel is] still technically in the early stages because I have no idea how long it's going to take me to finish," he said. "It's basically set in and around Richmond in the early days of Reconstruction, just as the Civil War's ending."

Powers enrolled at VCU after serving with the U.S. Army in 2004 and 2005 in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq. He studied in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and graduated in 2008. He then received a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin in 2012.

"Without the experience that I had at VCU, I don't know that I'd be doing what I do now, and I certainly wouldn't be doing it the way that I do it," he said.

As an English major at VCU, Powers said, he was able to take a course with M.F.A. students, allowing him to study alongside people who were dedicated to their writing in a way that he aspired to be.

"The quality of the education, it gave me a chance to dive into books that I'd already read, but not to the depths that I was able to do in class, and then to be introduced to not only different books, but also different ways of looking at books," he said.

Powers serves on the College of Humanities and Sciences Advisory Board.

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Kevin Powers
Kevin Powers