Marilynne Robinson

Thinking Long Thoughts with Marilynne Robinson

Image via S. Tore/Flickr

The Library of Congress’ National Book Festival featured more than 100 authors, but Pulitzer Prize-winning Marilynne Robinson (and Nobel Literature Prize dark horse — but I have my fingers crossed) was my clear highlight. She spoke for an hour with The Washington Post’s Book World editor, Ron Charles, about her newest novel Lila, public discourse on religion, and why we’ll never get to read any of her sermons.

In one of his first questions to Robinson, Charles asked why she seems to be one of the few contemporary American novelists who depict religion in a positive light.

It’s true, she said. With the proliferation of the out-of-touch pastors and abusive priests in our national literature, an observer would think that Americans are an irreligious bunch. But many Americans have a deeply-treasured friendship with a minister.

“It is part of our national character to ridicule what we value,” she said.

“And this makes it difficult to articulate what we actually value.”

Interview: Marilynne Robinson on the Language of Faith in Writing

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson spoke at Union Seminary in March 2014. Photo by Kristen Scharold/RNS.

What are you afraid of? That’s what Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson asks writers who shy away from writing about faith.

The beloved author has won accolades after writing so openly about belief, but it remains a subject few other writers take on.

“It’s courageous of Robinson to write about faith at a time when associations with religion are so often negative and violent,” Diane Johnson wrote in her New York Times review of Robinson’s latest book, Lila, which was released Oct. 7.

Like its predecessors Gilead (2004) and Home (2008), the new novel takes place in a 1950s Iowa town and focuses on minister John Ames and his family. The story is told from the perspective of his wife — and later, widow — Lila.

Robinson has been able reach varied audiences. A member of the liberal United Church of Christ, she is far from holding up ideals put forward by the religious right, but that hasn’t stopped conservative Christians from engaging with her writing. Earlier, she spoke with Religion News Service about guns, gay marriage, and Calvinism.

Before giving an address at Union Theological Seminary last spring, Robinson also spoke about the tensions between faith and writing. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Weekly Wrap 10.3.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

 1. The Strange Nostalgia of ‘Left Behind’
The rapture movie (out in theaters today) is—to borrow a phrase—neither hot nor cold. So why the re-make? We take a crack at answering.

2. Lipstick and Seminary
“During seminary, I paid close attention to ways men acted in and outside the classroom. Playing by their rules helped me fit in…I guarded what I considered feminine-seeming parts of my personality — creativity, emotion, and relational ways of perceiving and acting. I got A’s, but my soul was wilting.”

3. WATCH: A Million Ways to Die in the U.S.
Jon Stewart puts concerns over ISIS and Ebola in perspective. “The American government has a sacred obligation to do whatever it takes to save American lives…unless it’s stopping the things that are actually killing Americans.”

4. The Meditations of Europe’s Last Brewmaster Nun
Says Sister Doris: “As Saint Benedict wrote, ‘in all things God may be glorified,’ and that is also true of beer.” Say we: "Amen."

Q&A: Marilynne Robinson on Guns, Gay Marriage, and Calvinism

Pulitzer-prize winning author Marilynne Robinson spoke at Union Seminary in March 2014. Photo by Kristen Scharold

Pulitzer-Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson draws a wide fan base that spans lovers of serious literature, including many conservative Christians. This fall, she will release “Lila,” a follow-up to her earlier novels “Gilead” (2004) and “Home” (2008) about a 1950s-era Iowa town that won her many accolades.

Robinson’s diverse fan base was described in The American Conservative as “Christian, not Conservative.” As the author noted, Robinson is far from holding up ideals put forward by the religious right. But that doesn’t stop conservative Christians from engaging with her writing.

Before giving an address at Union Theological Seminary this spring, Robinson spoke to Religion News Service about a variety of social issues. In the interview, Robinson explained why she thinks Christians are fearful, why she loves theologian John Calvin and whether she’ll join Twitter. 

Of Liberation and 'Imaginative Love:' Rev. Ramirez-Eve and Immigrant Communities in North Carolina

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz. Photo courtesy North Carolina Council of Churches.

After taking my seat in a comfortably worn wingback chair, I immediately noticed a copy of Junot Diaz’s novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. My eyes lit up. Having just picked it up the week prior, I suddenly felt an imagined literary kinship with him. Appropriately, Diaz’s novel leaned up against a worn collection of liberation theology.

“How do you like Diaz’s writing?” I asked, hoping a moment of shared appreciation for words and stories would calm my nerves a bit.