In commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Knox’s Creative Writing department, the English department and Caxton Club collaborated in efforts to bring acclaimed author Marilynne Robinson to Knox’s campus for a reading. The usually introspective and pensive Robinson was enthusiastic and engaged as she addressed her audience. The reading took place this past Monday in the Red Room of the Seymour Library.
has received many awards for her writing, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005 for her novel “Gilead” and the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2009 for her novel “Home.” She holds a doctorate in English from the University of Washington in Seattle, as well as an honorary doctorate degree from Brown University. She has been a visiting professor at various universities and most notably taught at University of Iowa, where she worked as a professor in the renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop for 25 years.
Knox College faculty and students alike highly anticipated the arrival of Marilynne Robinson for the event. For the past term, Associate Professor of English Gina Franco has taught a workshop class dedicated to exploring Robinson’s “Gilead” trilogy.
“She’s written the kind of novel I want to read. It’s philosophical, it’s a beautiful interrogation of the subject, it’s beautiful that she’s able to write [that] as a trilogy of works,” Franco said. “She’s created this whole world that is bound up with the history of this place, with a realism that is theological. In that sense, I think they’re terrific novels.”
Theological accurately describes Robinson’s work. During the presentation, Robinson was asked to read a sermon her character in “Gilead” had written about the near slaughter of Abraham’s son in the Bible. Robinson did so with a moving certainty in her voice.
“About the cruelty of those narratives I said that they rendered the fact that children are often victims of rejection or violence,” Robinson said, “and that in these cases, too, which the Bible does not otherwise countenance, the child is within the providential care of God.”
Robinson does not shy away from heavy themes such as fatherhood, loneliness, abandonment and slavery. Much of her talk was centered around the fact that Galesburg was born out of the abolitionist movement. It was clear that Robinson spent a great deal of time researching abolition in regards to the Midwest. Robinson isn’t afraid to say what her opinions are on the topics she speaks about, even if they are slightly unconventional.
“One of the things that people don’t realize or talk about is that the slave trade was absolutely enormous. Slave labor was a major proponent of every economy. In any case if you are looking at for an economic equivalent to end slavery, it would be like getting rid of the computer industry,” Robinson said.
As Senior Sam Duffy expressed it, Robinson’s headstrong opinions are what makes her an excellent fit for Knox College. Duffy too noticed that Robinson’s literature has a tenaciousness to it.
“I think she has strong opinions. Her dedication to literature and the level at which she thinks about literature is very ‘Knox’, coming from the English department–they’re always thinking about each text in a very complex and interesting way.”
Associate Professor of English Nicholas Regiacorte, who also introduced the author, was more than impressed by the event. Regiacorte first came into contact with Robinson when he was at the University of Iowa while she was teaching. Regiacorte believed Robinson was courageous for directly talking about abolition in regards to Galesburg.
“I found it to be almost overwhelming and beautiful. It was like a booster shot for the community. Like ‘wake-up everybody’, this is what we are about,” Regiacorte said. “I told her over breakfast that ‘someone like you needs to come to towns like this and tell them this is who you are.’”
Regiacorte lamented that he took the history of Knox almost for granted. He feels like Robinson’s great strength is her ability to make people care about the things they might at first have taken for granted as part of their ordinary life.
“She believes the ordinary deserves unblinking attention,” Regiacorte said. “This is how I take it, that an ordinary life can contain mystery and can radiate just as well as a so-called extraordinary life.”