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King University News :: Pulitzer Prize Recipient Marilynne Robinson to Present Buechner Institute's Annual Lectureship

The Buechner (Beek-ner) Institute at King College celebrates its January birthday each year by hosting the annual Buechner Lectureship. Past lecturers have included Frederick Buechner, for whom the Institute is named, Barbara Brown Taylor, Ron Hansen, and Katherine Paterson. This year, the Institute is pleased to welcome Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson as the 2012 Buechner Lecturer. On Saturday, Jan. 28, at First Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Tenn., Robinson will begin the days' events with an on-stage interview at 4 p.m. which is to be followed by her lecture at 7 p.m.

Marilynne Robinson strikes close to the center of what we are up to at the Buechner Institute, said Dale Brown, director of the Buechner Institute at King College. Hers is one of the most incisive and thoughtful voices in the current conversation about faith and culture. We are most fortunate to have her coming to the Tri-Cities.

Robinson, who teaches for the Iowa Writers Workshop, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for her novel Gilead. Among her other works are the novels Housekeeping (1980), a finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize and winner of the Hemmingway Foundation/PEN Award for best first novel, and Home (2008), a sequel to Gilead and winner of the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction in the UK. Robinson also received the 2005 Ambassador Book Award, and was the recipient of the 2006 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion.

As part of her on-stage interview during the Buechner Lectureship on Jan. 28, Robinson will discuss her newest book, When I was a Child I Read Books: Essays, which will be available this March.

Robinson's non-fiction work includes The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (1998), Mother Country: Britain, The Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution (1989), and Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (2010). She has also written articles, essays, and reviews for Harper's, The Paris Review, and The New York Times Book Review.

In preparation for Robinson's visit to the Buechner Institute, members of the Buechner Institute Student Board, and students of King College read Gilead. Junior Bible and Religion major Maggie Rust commented, Since reading 'Gilead,' I have been particularly excited about Marilynne Robinson's visit. I can see how she will contribute to our on-going conversation. As John Ames writes to his young son at the end of a God-haunted life, he takes great pains to describe the dramas of family, chronicles of a journey examined, and stores with an undercurrent of faith. He is a man who has both sorrow and joy. 'If God speaks to us at all,' said Frederick Buechner, 'surely it is into our personal lives that he speaks.' 'Gilead' perfectly exemplifies Buechner's point, and Robinson's visit provides yet another opportunity to follow Buechner's most insistent mandate by listening to our own lives.

An article in Intelligent Life magazine describes Robinson's work as ...heavy with yearning, full of the beauties and sorrows of the everyday, and the odd existential glimpse of something much lighter or darker. That she is religious--contentedly and engagingly so--seeps into everything she writes, whether she is lambasting the arcane, rootless, disruptive phenomenon we call global economics (in a bristling essay, Darwinism), or composing a long letter from an ageing minister to his young son, in the Pulitzer-winning novel 'Gilead.'

Marilynne Robinson is undoubtedly one of our most important contemporary writers--and it is a profound honor to host her at the Buechner Institute, said Jennifer Holberg, professor of English for Calvin College and chair for the Buechner Institute's National Advisory Board. Whether in her fiction or in her essays, her writing is luminous, profound, and full of grace. Both beautifully written and deeply insightful, Robinson's work asks us to recognize and respond to the wonder that lies all about us. No other writer matches her combination of intellectual rigor, generosity of spirit, and literary accomplishment.

Originally from Sandpoint, Idaho, Robinson graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts from Pembroke College and received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington. She has been writer-in-residence or visiting professor at the University of Kent, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts' MFA Program for Poets Writers.

In 2009, Robinson held a Dwight H. Terry Lectureship at Yale University, giving a series of talks entitled Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self. In April 2010, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in May 2011, she delivered Oxford University's annual Esmond Harmsworth Lecture in American Arts and Letters at the university's Rothermere American Institute.

The event is open to the public and free to attend. For more information, contact Dale Brown, director of the Buechner Institute at King College, at 423.652.4156 or visit

*Photo Credit: Nancy Crampton