Marilynne Robinson, 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead, is coming to the Egyptian Theatre on Tuesday, January 17, at 7:30 p.m. Invited by The Log Cabin Literary Center, Robinson will read from her book and engage in a conversational interview with Anthony Doerr, also an acclaimed writer and member of the Log Cabin's board of directors.
Born in Sandpoint in the mid-'40s and raised in Idaho, Robinson left the state after high school to study at Brown University and the University of Washington, where she enrolled in the graduate program in English.
Robinson teaches at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in Iowa City and is widely--and accurately--regarded as one of America's best contemporary writers.
She won the PEN/Hemingway Award with her novel, Housekeeping (1981), and ignited British ire with Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State and Nuclear Pollution (1989). The Death of Adam (2005), is a collection of essays on modern thought, which includes discussions of Darwinism and Freud. Robinson's ability to draw readers into tricky cerebral territory is surprisingly agile and satisfying. She seems to hold your hand gently, even as she urges you to step to an intellectual precipice and look about.
Robinson loves the phenomenon of readership and says she writes whatever is on her mind, without expectations. She does this so fluidly that while reading Gilead, you could forgot you were engaging the mechanism of reading, except for having to turn a page.
Gilead is the story of John Ames, a 76-year-old Iowa minister with a failing heart and a 7-year-old son. The aged reverend, deeply aware of how little time he has to spend with his child, compiles a legacy of family history, local color and spiritual musings so his son might better know him one day. The stories are deeply moving, some are humorous, and Robinson offers generous, eloquent portions of insight and observation.
John Ames's character, Robinson told BW, "simply became a presence" in her imagination. He is, in fact, so tangible, it is difficult to perceive of him as a fictional person. When the final words are read and the book is closed, there is a haunting feeling. As you reach the end of the book, Rev. Ames has simultaneously reached the end of his life and his stories.
This is a profoundly spiritual book. If you have little interest in spiritual matters. Read it anyway.
Although Robinson has a theological background, there are no soapboxes, fiery pulpits or harsh judgments evident in Gilead. Her character states, "I think the attempt to defend belief can unsettle it, in fact, because there is always an inadequacy in argument about ultimate things."
Current controversies, Robinson feels, are more tribal than theological or religious. She ponders why we seem trapped in an "endless reprise of the Scopes trial" when we should be enjoying our lives. Then she glides into this assessment: "The beautiful contemporary science is exotic and speculative, always making some bold assault on its own assumptions."
Robinson is a brilliant thinker and writer who hasn't lost her sense of wonder.
From Gilead: "There's a shimmer on a child's hair, in the sunlight. There are rainbow colors in it, soft beams of just the same colors you can see in the dew sometimes. They're in the petals of flowers and they're on a child's skin."
Tickets are $30 for the general public, $27 for Log Cabin members and may be purchased at the Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St., and The Log Cabin Literary Center, 801 S. Capital Blvd.
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