Just four months after his graduation from UT’s Michener Center for Writers alum Kevin Powers is rocking the publishing world with his first novel. “The Yellow Birds” was released in the U.K. last week and Little, Brown and Company brings it out to U.S. readers next week, on Sept. 11. The book tells, in alternating chapters, the story of a young American GI’s experiences in Iraq and his difficult assimilation back home. Powers served as a machine-gunner in Mosel and Tal Afar in 2004-2005.
In effusive reviews from The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani and London’s Guardian, Powers’ debut is compared to iconic books of our time and in literary history. “Its depiction of war,” writes Kakutani, “has the surreal kick of [Tim] O’Brien’s 1978 novel, ‘Going After Cacciato,’ and a poetic pointillism distinctly its own.” The Guardian, who long-listed the novel for its 2012 First Book Award, says, “while few will have expected the war in Iraq to bring forth a novel that can stand beside ‘All Quiet on the Western Front or The Red Badge of Courage,’ ‘The Yellow Birds’ does just that.”
Both reviews quote Powers’ hypnotic prose at length, calling his language “brilliantly observed,” and “the mark of an artist of the first order.” Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch, who acquired the manuscript last November and brought it into print in record time, calls the work “a voice from inside the fire.” Powers joined the Michener Center’s MFA program in 2009 as a poet and continues to write and publish poetry.
The U.S. launch will be celebrated with an event in Austin next Tuesday, Sept. 11, when the Michener Center for Writers, Texas Monthly, and the Texas Book Festival co-sponsor a conversation with Kevin Powers and TM editor Jake Silverstein—also a Michener alum— at Lambert’s Downtown BBQ from 6-8 p.m. An RSVP is required in advance through the magazine’s web page.