Marilynne Robinson

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Marilynne Robinson
Robinson in 2012
Robinson in 2012
BornMarilynne Summers
(1943-11-26) November 26, 1943 (age 79)
Sandpoint, Idaho, U.S.
  • Novelist
  • essayist
Notable awards
Fred Miller Robinson
(m. 1967; div. 1989)

Marilynne Summers Robinson (born November 26, 1943) is an American novelist and essayist. Across her writing career, Robinson has received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005, National Humanities Medal in 2012, and the 2016 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. In 2016, Robinson was named in Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people.[2] Robinson began teaching at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1991[3] and retired in the spring of 2016.[4]

Robinson is best known for her novels Housekeeping (1980) and Gilead (2004). Her novels are noted for their thematic depiction of faith and rural life.[5] The subjects of her essays span numerous topics, including the relationship between religion and science, US history, nuclear pollution, John Calvin, and contemporary American politics.

Family and education[edit]

Robinson was born Marilynne Summers on November 26, 1943 in Sandpoint, Idaho, the daughter of Eileen (Harris) and John J. Summers, a lumber company employee.[6][7][8] Her brother is the art historian David Summers, who dedicated his book Vision, Reflection, and Desire in Western Painting to her. She did her undergraduate work at Pembroke College, the former women's college at Brown University, receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude in 1966, and being elected to Phi Beta Kappa. At Brown, one of her teachers was the postmodern novelist John Hawkes.[9] She received her Doctor of Philosophy degree in English from the University of Washington in 1977.[10][11]

Writing career[edit]

Robinson has written five highly acclaimed novels: Housekeeping (1980), Gilead (2004), Home (2008), Lila (2014), and Jack (2020). Housekeeping was a finalist for the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (US), Gilead was awarded the 2005 Pulitzer, and Home received the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction (UK). Home and Lila are companions to Gilead and focus on the Boughton and Ames families during the same time period.[12][13]

Robinson is also the author of many non-fiction works, including Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution (1989), The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (1998), Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (2010), When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays (2012), The Givenness of Things: Essays (2015), and What Are We Doing Here? (2018). She has written numerous articles, essays and reviews for Harper's, The Paris Review, and The New York Review of Books.[14][15][16] On January 24, 2013, Robinson was announced to be among the finalists for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize.[17] She won the 2013 Park Kyong-ni Prize.

Academic affiliations[edit]

In addition to her tenure from 1991 to 2016 on the faculty of the University of Iowa, where she retired as the F. Wendell Miller Professor of English and Creative Writing, Robinson has been writer-in-residence or visiting professor at many colleges and universities, including Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst's MFA Program for Poets and Writers.[18] In 2009, she held a Dwight H. Terry Lectureship at Yale University, where she delivered a series of talks titled Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self. On April 19, 2010, she was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[19] In May 2011, Robinson delivered the University of Oxford's annual Esmond Harmsworth Lecture in American Arts and Letters at the university's Rothermere American Institute.

Robinson was the keynote speaker for the 75th anniversary celebration of the Iowa Writers' Workshop in June 2011, and she gave the 2012 Annual Buechner Lecture at The Buechner Institute at King University. On February 18, 2013, she was the speaker at the Easter Convocation of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Literature honoris causa. In 2012, Brown University awarded Robinson the degree of Doctor of Literature honoris causa.[20] The College of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Amherst College, Skidmore College, the University of Oxford, and Yale University have also awarded Robinson honorary degrees. She has been elected a fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford.[21]


The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has described Robinson as "one of the world's most compelling English-speaking novelists", adding that "Robinson's is a voice we urgently need to attend to in both Church and society here [in the UK]."[22]

On June 26, 2015, President Barack Obama quoted Robinson in his eulogy for Clementa C. Pinckney of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In speaking about "an open heart," Obama said: "[w]hat a friend of mine, the writer Marilynne Robinson, calls 'that reservoir of goodness, beyond, and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.'" [23] In November 2015, The New York Review of Books published a two-part conversation between Obama and Robinson, covering topics in American history and the role of faith in society.[24][25]

Personal life[edit]

Robinson was raised as a Presbyterian and later became a Congregationalist, worshipping and sometimes preaching at the Congregational United Church of Christ in Iowa City.[26][27] Her Congregationalism and her interest in the ideas of John Calvin have been important in many of her novels, including Gilead, which centers on the life and theological concerns of a fictional Congregationalist minister.[28] In an interview with the Church Times in 2012, Robinson said: "I think, if people actually read Calvin, rather than read Max Weber, he would be rebranded. He is a very respectable thinker."[29]

In 1967 she married Fred Miller Robinson,[30][31] a writer and professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The Robinsons divorced in 1989.[32] The couple had two sons. In the late 1970s, she wrote Housekeeping in the evenings while they slept. Robinson said they influenced her writing in many ways, since "[Motherhood] changes your sense of life, your sense of yourself."[33]

Robinson still lives in Iowa City, but she spends the summers with family in upstate New York.[34]



  • Housekeeping (1980) ISBN 9780374525187, OCLC 930404329
  • Gilead (2004) ISBN 9780312424404, OCLC 1016128137
  • Home (2008) ISBN 9780009732997, OCLC 588596243
  • Lila (2014) ISBN 9781844088812, OCLC 891809441[35]
  • Jack (2020) ISBN 9780374279301, OCLC 1136958758[36]

Online fiction[edit]

  • Kansas - published in The New Yorker on September 6, 2004
  • Jack and Della - published in The New Yorker on July 13, 2020



Essays and reportage[edit]




  1. ^ This Life, This World: New Essays on Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, Gilead, and Home. BRILL. 2015-09-25. ISBN 9789004302235.
  2. ^ 100 Most Influential People Marilynne Robinson Time, April 2016
  3. ^ "UI Writers' Workshop faculty member Marilynne Robinson win quarter-million-dollar award". February 4, 1998. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
  4. ^ "Robinson to retire from Iowa Writers' Workshop". Iowa Now. 2016-04-27. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
  5. ^ McCrum, Robert (April 2, 2005). "A love letter to lost America". The Guardian. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
  6. ^ "Marilynne Robinson: Sandpoint Memories". NEA. 2010-04-06. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
  7. ^ Werlock, Abby H. P. (22 April 2015). Encyclopedia of the American Novel. ISBN 9781438140698.
  8. ^ "Hill & Wood Funeral Service | Charlottesville, VA Funeral Home & Cremation".
  9. ^ This Life, This World: New Essays on Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, Gilead, and Home. BRILL. 2015-09-25. ISBN 9789004302235.
  10. ^ "History & Literature of the Pacific Northwest: Marilynne Robinson, 1943". Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington. n.d. Retrieved 2008-04-13.
  11. ^ Lister, Rachel (2006-10-21). "Marilynne Robinson (1947– )". The Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2009-06-22.
  12. ^ "Home by Marilynne Robinson". Archived from the original on 2010-07-22. Retrieved 2015-10-29.
  13. ^ Dave Itzkoff, "Marilynne Robinson Wins Orange Prize", The New York Times, June 3, 2009.
  14. ^ Robinson, Marilynne (2016-03-01). "Save Our Public Universities". Harper's Magazine. ISSN 0017-789X. Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  15. ^ Fay, Interviewed by Sarah. "Marilynne Robinson, The Art of Fiction No. 198". The Paris Review. Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  16. ^ "Marilynne Robinson". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  17. ^ "Man Booker International Prize 2013 Finalists Announced | The Man Booker Prizes". 2013-01-24. Archived from the original on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2015-10-29.
  18. ^ Max, D. T. (2012-09-07). "D.F.W. Week: The Wonderfully Arrogant First Pitch Letter". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
  19. ^ "American Academy of Arts & Sciences". January 1999. Retrieved 2015-10-29.
  20. ^ This Life, This World: New Essays on Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, Gilead, and Home. BRILL. 2015-09-25. ISBN 9789004302235.
  21. ^ "Marilynne Robinson awarded Honorary Fellowship | Mansfield College, Oxford". Retrieved 2018-01-18.
  22. ^ Williams, Rowan, "Mighty plea for reasonableness", Church Times, 12 August 2012
  23. ^ "Remarks by the President in Eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney". 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2015-10-29 – via National Archives.
  24. ^ Robinson, Marilynne; Obama, President Barack (November 5, 2015). "President Obama & Marilynne Robinson: A Conversation in Iowa". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
  25. ^ Robinson, Marilynne; Obama, President Barack (November 19, 2015). "President Obama & Marilynne Robinson: A Conversation—II". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
  26. ^ "Marilynne Robinson interview: The faith behind the fiction", Reform, September 2010.
  27. ^ "Marilynne Robinson", Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, September 18, 2009.
  28. ^ "Marilynne Robinson", Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, March 18, 2005.
  29. ^ Wroe, Martin, "A minister of the word", Church Times, 22 June 2012
  30. ^ "Biography - Fred Miller Robinson, PhD - College of Arts and Sciences - University of San Diego". Retrieved 2019-01-03.
  31. ^ Sandra Hutchison (15 February 2015). "Marilynne Robinson". Sandra Hutchison. Retrieved 2019-01-03.
  32. ^ Fay, Interviewed by Sarah (2008). "Marilynne Robinson, The Art of Fiction No. 198". The Paris Review. Vol. Fall 2008, no. 186. ISSN 0031-2037. Retrieved 2019-01-03.
  33. ^ Brockes, Emma (2009-05-29). "A life in writing: Marilynne Robinson". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  34. ^ Allardice, Lisa (2018-07-06). "Marilynne Robinson: 'Obama was very gentlemanly ... I'd like to get a look at Trump'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-04-02.
  35. ^ "Five books for 2014", The Economist November 21, 2013
  36. ^ "Jack". US Macmillan. Retrieved September 15, 2020.
  37. ^ "Marilynne Robinson Introduced by Paul Elie". 92 St Y.
  38. ^ "PEN/Hemingway Award Winners". The Hemingway Society. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  39. ^ "1982 Finalists". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  40. ^ "The 2005 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Fiction". Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  41. ^ "2006- Marilynne Robinson". Archived from the original on 2014-04-04. Retrieved 2015-10-29.
  42. ^ "Simmons among nine honorary degree recipients". Brown University. 16 May 2012. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  43. ^ President Obama to Award 2012 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal, retrieved 30 June 2013
  44. ^ Julie Jackson (September 26, 2013). "Park Kyung-ni literary prize goes to Robinson". Korea Herald. Retrieved July 7, 2014.
  45. ^ Alexandra Alter (March 12, 2015). "'Lila' Honored as Top Fiction by National Book Critics Circle". New York Times. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  46. ^ "Marilynne Robinson wins Library of Congress fiction prize". Associated Press. March 29, 2016. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
  47. ^ Foundation, Dayton Literary Peace Prize. "Dayton Literary Peace Prize - Marilynne Robinson, 2016 Recipient of the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award".

External links[edit]