During an award ceremony to be held May 6 at the Newberry, Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson will receive the 2019 Newberry Library Award for her contributions to and advocacy for the humanities.
"Over the course of her more than 40-year career, Marilynne Robinson has used her fiction and non-fiction writing to explore questions at the very heart of humanistic inquiry—about selfhood, about history, about the various entanglement of politics and religion, and about the great questions of life,"said David Spadafora, President of the Newberry. "At the same time, she has provided consistently insightful and tough-minded commentary on the challenging conditions of our time. Her writing and her teaching illustrate in profound ways the value of the humanities in promoting critical reflection and compassionate understanding—values that also guide our work here at the Newberry.”
Born in Idaho, Robinson graduated from Brown University in 1966 with a BA in American Literature before receiving a PhD in English Literature from the University of Washington in 1977. Three years later, she published her first novel, Housekeeping, which received the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for Best First Novel. In 2005, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel Gilead, a fictional autobiography written from the perspective of a dying pastor in the small town of Gilead, Iowa. Robinson returned to the same characters and themes in her two most recent novels, Home (2008) and Lila (2014), which were awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction and National Book Critics Circle Award, respectively.
"I am honored to receive this award from the Newberry Library,"said Marilynne Robinson. "The institution itself is a celebration of knowledge and culture, a gift to a great city and to America and the world. I am delighted that my work has been found to merit its notice and a small place in its history. We are learning to understand that the monuments left by earlier generations—here, the beautiful library itself and the treasures it contains—are promises to our descendants that they will receive and enjoy a splendid heritage.”
In addition to her four novels, Robinson has authored a wide-ranging body of non-fiction work, including essays and articles for Harper’s Magazine and The New York Times Review of Books, as well as collections like Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution (1989); The Death of Adam (1998); When I Was a Child I Read Books (2012); The Givenness of Things (2015); and What Are We Doing Here? (2018).
In 2012, Robinson was awarded the National Humanities Medal—the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government for work in the humanities—by President Obama, for her "grace and intelligence in writing."Robinson was also interviewed by Obama for a two-part article that appeared in The New York Review of Books in 2015.
Alongside her work as a writer, Robinson has led a distinguished career as a professor and teacher of writing. After stints as a writer-in-residence and visiting professor at several universities, she joined the MFA program at the University of Iowa in 1989. Two years later, she began teaching with the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where she remained until 2016, when she retired from her position as F. Wendell Miller Professor at the University of Iowa, becoming professor emerita.
The Newberry Library Award is presented to individuals and organizations in recognition of their work on behalf of the humanities. In recent years, recipients of the award have included Pulitzer-Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Robinson will receive the 2019 Newberry Library Award at a ceremony and award dinner to be held May 6 at the Newberry. The dinner will be co-chaired by Richard C. Godfrey, Andrew R. McGaan, and Nancy and Richard Spain.