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University of Iowa News Release

April 4, 2005

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UI Faculty Member Robinson Wins Pulitzer Prize For 'Gilead'

Marilynne Robinson, a faculty member in the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, was identified today as the winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Robinson was honored for "Gilead," an epistolary novel about the experiences and thoughts of a small-town Iowa minister.

Some 40 Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded to UI faculty members and alumni, including 26 prizes to writers associated with the Writers' Workshop. Currently two other UI professors, both in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, are Pulitzer winners:  James Alan McPherson of the Writers' Workshop and Steve Berry of Jouralism and Mass Communication.

UI President David Skorton expressed his pleasure at the news Monday afternoon:

"I am thrilled that Professor Marilynne Robinson has won the Pulitzer Prize.  We are always enormously proud of the accomplishments of the most highly regarded Writers' Workshop in the world, yet singular honors like this are a cause for great celebration," he said.  "Marilynne's literary achievements glow only more brightly as time goes on, and we are proud to count her among our most distinguished faculty.  I offer my heartiest congratulations to her."

Earlier this year, "Gilead" also won the Book Critics' Circle Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Her first novel, "Housekeeping," was a Pulitzer finalist two decades ago, when it won the PEN/Hemingway Award.

And that gap between novels became part of the story when "Gilead" appeared. America's literary press shouted, as if in chorus, "Marilynne Robinson is back!" and wondered, "Why did we have to wait so long?"

• "The wait since 1981 and "Housekeeping" is over..." (Kirkus Reviews)

• "At some point on the curve, 'highly-anticipated' gives way to 'fat chance'..." (Village Voice)

• "Fans of Robinson's acclaimed debut "Housekeeping" will find that the long wait has been worth it." (Publishers Weekly)

• "Robinson's first book, "Housekeeping," remains an astonishment, leading to high expectations for her longed-for second novel, which is, joyfully, a work of profound beauty, and wonder." (Booklist)

•  "In 1981, Marilynne Robinson wrote "Housekeeping," which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and became a modern classic.  Since then, she has written two pieces of nonfiction: "Mother Country" and "The Death of Adam." With "Gilead," we have, at last, another work of fiction." (Valerie Ryan)

Even the subhead of "A Moralist of the Midwest," an extensive feature in the Oct. 24, 2004, The New York Times Magazine, starts, "Two decades after the success of Housekeeping..."

While few authors are likely to turn down a flattering feature in The New York Times Magazine, or reject raves in The New York Times Book Review or The Washington Post Book World -- the Post review called "Gilead," "so serenely beautiful, and written in a prose so gravely measured and thoughtful, that one feels touched with grace just to read it" -- Robinson was a bit annoyed by the journalistic echo.

"The two non-fiction books I wrote between Housekeeping and Gilead are fully as important to me, and fully as essential an expression of my life, as the novels," she insists. "During those years I was engaged in the very intense work of writing essays. I was not deferring the work of writing fiction. Any book is a significant stage in its writer's education, and I am equally grateful to every book I have written."

What the reviews miss, too, is how much Robinson has invested herself in the demands of teaching. And any Writers' Workshop faculty member can describe the time and energy that are required to take that responsibility seriously -- even though a writer could not hope for a more prestigious and rewarding "day job."

In 1998, Robinson was selected by the American Academy of Arts and Letters to receive a Strauss Living, a five-year stipend totaling a quarter of a million dollars that was established to enable writers to focus entirely on their work without requiring other employment. The UI responded in a manner that is astonishing by the standards of most institutions -- she was granted a five-year leave of absence.

But Robinson soon found that teaching had become an essential part of her life. After only 18 months on leave, she turned down the remainder of the stipend to return to the Workshop.

"I love teaching," she says. "I can't tell you how much I have learned from it. And the Workshop is entirely shaped around respect for writing and for writers, both faculty and students. It is as fruitful as it is for very good reasons."

The Writers' Workshop is an academic unit of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu