John R. Powers was born in 1945 on the South Side of Chicago. He earned a BA in sociology from Loyola University Chicago and an MA and a PhD in communications from Northwestern University. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on Studs Terkel, a Chicago radio personality and writer known for his oral histories (Hard Times, The Good War). Powers was a professor of speech and performing arts at Northeastern Illinois University for six years. He also created and hosted a number of specials for Chicago public television during this time.
Powers’s writing career began at the age of sixteen, when the Chicago Tribune published a column he penned. Years later, he started writing about growing up Catholic during the 1950s and 1960s, because, he says, no one else had.
“You write what you know about,” he says. “No one had ever written a book about the culture of growing up Catholic. I wanted to write a humorous social portrait of Catholicism in the mid-twentieth century.”
Powers’s stories first appeared in the form of articles written for Chicago magazine. The novels followed in quick succession: The Last Catholic in America (1973), Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? (1975), and The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice-Cream God (1977). He has written one other novel, The Junk-Drawer Corner-Store Front-Porch Blues (1992), as well as Odditude: Finding the Passion for Who You Are and What You Do (2007).
Powers’s “fictionalized memoirs” of growing up Catholic have found life beyond the printed page. In 1979, a musical production of Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? opened in Chicago and ran there for three years. Powers produced the Chicago show full-time, as well as other productions of the play in other major cities. Powers has also produced and starred in a one-man show called Life’s Not Fair . . . So What?
John Powers and his wife, JaNelle, have two daughters, Jacey and Joy. He lives in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and is a motivational speaker. He speaks to about ninety companies, professional organizations, and community groups a year.