Photo: Charles Quigg '09
Doctor of Literature
Marilynne Robinson is one of our nation’s most important and influential writers. Through fiction and nonfiction works, and as a teacher, she has established herself as a leading figure in contemporary literature.
Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping, is a quietly luminous and sometimes terrifying tale of two orphaned sisters living with an eccentric aunt in the Pacific Northwest. Anatole Broyard, reviewing it for The New York Times, said, “Here is a first novel that sounds as if the author has been treasuring it up all her life.” The book received the PEN/Hemingway Award for best first novel in 1981. Still frequently taught and widely read, Housekeeping was named one of The New York Times’ “Books of the Century” and listed as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time by the Guardian Observer.
Robinson’s second novel, Gilead, about the life and times of an Iowa preacher, seems to have been similarly treasured up during the 23 years since Housekeeping’s publication. Robinson says that the book began with her interest in theology and in the history of the Midwest. “Then, for whatever reason, a character came into my mind, or more specifically, a voice,” she said, “and a lot of things that I’d been thinking about and reading about precipitated themselves as a novel.” Gilead received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2005.
Robinson has not limited herself to fiction. She is the author of two book-length nonfiction works, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (1998), and Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State and Nuclear Pollution, an exposé of the environmental damage caused by a nuclear reprocessing plant. That book was a finalist for the 1989 National Book Award. In 1997, Robinson received a Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
A faculty member at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Robinson has also taught at the University of Kent in England, the University of Massachusetts and at Amherst College in 1985.