Biography of Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, sometimes referred to as “America’s George Eliot.” She grew up in Idaho and attended college at Pembroke and graduate school at the University of Washington, from which she earned her Ph.D. in English in 1977. Raised as a Presbyterian, Robinson became a Congregationalist. She has occasionally preached and has spent time researching and writing on the life and teachings of John Calvin as well as other prominent thinkers and philosophers.

Her first novel, Homecoming, was published in 1980. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Anatole Broyard enthused, “It’s as if, in writing it, she broke through the ordinary human condition with all its dissatisfactions, and achieved a kind of transfiguration.” Her second novel, Gilead, was published in 2004 and won the Pulitzer and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She then published Home in 2008, which won the Orange Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Lila in 2014, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

She is also a nonfiction writer, having published books of essays such as Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (2010) and When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays (2012); she has written for Harper’s, the New York Times, and The Paris Review as well. Robinson has been very active in the academic world, serving as writer-in-residence or professor at multiple institutions both in England and the United States. She currently teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was their keynote speaker at its 75th anniversary celebration. There have been numerous other awards and speaking opportunities bestowed upon her: Oxford University’s annual Esmond Harmsworth Lecture in American Arts and Letters at the university's Rothermere American Institute in 2011; Brown University’s degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa; honorary degrees from Holy Cross College, Notre Dame, Amherst College, Skidmore College and Oxford University; election to fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford University; the 2012 National Humanities Medal, awarded by Obama for her “grace and intelligence in writing.”

An interviewer for the Paris Review described her thusly: “In person, even when clad in her favorite writing attire—a pair of loose pants and a sweatshirt—Robinson carries herself with a regal elegance. While she is humble about her accomplishments and the acclaim they have brought her, the force of her intellect is apparent. In her nonfiction books, as well as in her recent novels, she passionately engages public policy as well as philosophical and theological scholarship.”

Robinson is divorced and has two grown sons and grandchildren.

Study Guides on Works by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead is Marilynne Robinson’s second and most famous work. Published in 2004, it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Robinson based her novel on real places and real people. Gilead, while fictional,...