It’s the birthday of novelist and short-story writer J.F. Powers (books by this author), born James Farl Powers in Jacksonville, Illinois (1917). His family was Catholic, but the town was heavily Protestant, and Powers wrote about a similar town in his first novel: “Protestants were very sure of themselves there. If you were a Catholic boy you felt that it was their country, handed down to them by the Pilgrims, George Washington, and others, and that they were taking a risk in letting you live in it.” He went to Catholic school, he was a great basketball player, and then he started working odd jobs to support himself and his family during the Great Depression. By the time WWII started, he was unemployed and living in Chicago, but he loved it because he met all sorts of interesting people — jazz singers, political exiles, pacifists.
Powers refused to join the war, and so he was sent to a federal prison in Sandstone, Minnesota. He was paroled to work as an orderly in a hospital in St. Paul, and he wrote fiction at night. In 1947, he published Prince of Darkness, a book of short stories, many of them about Catholic priests in Minnesota. He continued to write novels and short stories, mostly satire, many of them about priests in small Minnesota towns. His books never sold very well, even though they got great reviews and his novel Morte d’Urban (1962) won the National Book Award.