Marilynne Robinson

A Literary Luminary
Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson

A Literary Luminary

Marilynne Summers Robinson, an American novelist and essayist, stands as a towering figure in contemporary literature. With a writing career spanning several decades, she has not only earned prestigious awards but also left an indelible mark on the literary world. This article provides an overview of her life, works, and accomplishments.

Early Life and Education

Born on November 26, 1943, in Sandpoint, Idaho, Marilynne Summers was the daughter of Eileen and John J. Summers, the latter being a lumber company employee.

Her family background provided a rich context for her future literary explorations. Her brother, David Summers, a renowned art historian, dedicated one of his books to her, emphasising the close bond between the siblings.

Robinson pursued her undergraduate studies at Pembroke College, the former women's college at Brown University, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude in 1966.

During her time at Brown, she was influenced by John Hawkes, a postmodern novelist, and began to develop her own unique voice as a writer. She continued her academic journey by obtaining a Doctor of Philosophy degree in English from the University of Washington in 1977.

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Maneka Gandhi

Writing Career

Marilynne Robinson's writing career is a testament to her literary prowess and ability to touch the hearts and minds of readers. She is celebrated for her novels and essays, each exploring profound themes and ideas.

Notable Novels

  • Housekeeping (1980): Robinson's debut novel, "Housekeeping," was a finalist for the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It sets the stage for her exploration of complex human experiences and emotions.

  • Gilead (2004): "Gilead" was the novel that catapulted Robinson to literary stardom. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005 and is a reflection on faith, family, and rural life in a Midwestern town.

  • Home (2008): This novel, a companion to "Gilead," continued the exploration of the Boughton and Ames families and was awarded the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction in the UK.

  • Lila (2014): "Lila" revisits the world of "Gilead" and delves into the complexities of relationships, love, and personal transformation.

  • Jack (2020): Robinson's most recent novel, "Jack," was published in 2020 and received acclaim for its nuanced portrayal of the eponymous character and his love story.

Essays and Non-Fiction Works

Robinson's contributions extend beyond fiction:

  • "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)

  • "What Are We Doing Here? Essays" (2018)

These thought-provoking essays tackle a wide array of topics, including religion, science, history, and contemporary American politics. Robinson's talent for essay writing has earned her a place in prestigious publications like Harper's, The Paris Review, and The New York Review of Books.

Academic Achievements

Marilynne Robinson's academic affiliations underscore her deep commitment to education and intellectual exploration. She joined the faculty of the University of Iowa in 1991 and retired in 2016 as the F. Wendell Miller Professor of English and Creative Writing.

Throughout her career, she held positions as a writer-in-residence or visiting professor at several institutions, including Amherst College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst's MFA Program for Poets and Writers.

Her contributions to academia were further acknowledged when she delivered the Dwight H. Terry Lectureship at Yale University in 2009, titled "Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self." Robinson was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013.

She has also been recognised with honorary degrees from numerous institutions, including Brown University, the University of Oxford, and Yale University.

Commendations and Influence

Marilynne Robinson's writing has garnered praise from esteemed figures such as Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who described her as "one of the world's most compelling English-speaking novelists."

Her ability to explore profound themes and engage with the complexities of faith and human nature has resonated not only within literary circles but also in broader discussions of societal and moral issues.

Even former President Barack Obama found inspiration in Robinson's words. He quoted her in his eulogy for Clementa C. Pinckney, an event that highlighted the impact of her work. Robinson engaged in a two-part conversation with Obama for The New York Review of Books, covering American history and the role of faith in society.

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Kirron Kher

Personal Life and Faith

Robinson's personal journey has significantly influenced her writing. Raised as a Presbyterian and later becoming a Congregationalist, her faith and interest in the ideas of John Calvin play a prominent role in many of her novels, particularly "Gilead." Her ability to blend her religious insights with profound storytelling has set her apart as a writer of great depth and nuance.

In 1967, she married Fred Miller Robinson, a writer and professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Although they divorced in 1989, their relationship and her experiences of motherhood influenced her writing significantly.

Today, Marilynne Robinson continues to reside in Iowa City, but she spends her summers with family in upstate New York. Her literary legacy, rich with award-winning novels and impactful essays, endures as a testament to her storytelling prowess and profound insights into the human condition.

Bibliography

Fiction

  • "Housekeeping" (1980)

  • "Gilead" (2004)

  • "Home" (2008)

  • "Lila" (2014)

  • "Jack" (2020)

Nonfiction

  • "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)

  • "What Are We Doing Here? Essays" (2018)

Marilynne Robinson's impactful work continues to inspire and provoke thought, cementing her status as a literary luminary of our time.

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Kanimozhi

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