Marilynne Robinson: Biography

Marilynne Robinson

26 nov 1943

Marilynne Summers Robinson was born in 1943 in Sandpoint, Idaho, continuing the family presence in the area which has been mounting for generations. She was given a Presbyterian upbringing. She attended high school here before travelling to Rhode Island to attend Brown University to complete her undergraduate studies. She graduated in 1966, and went on to achieve a PhD in English from the University of Washington in 1977. Just three years later she had published her first novel.

Robinson’s religious upbringing, and her subsequent membership of the Congregationalist communist, have been huge influences on her writing. She has previously preached at the Congregational United Church of Christ in Iowa and has spoken in interviews about her interest in the writings and teachings of John Calvin. These influences can be clearly seen in the Gilead series, with the first novel focussing on the internal conflicts of a Congregationalist reverend.

Robinson has written a total of four novels, alongside her many essays. Her first novel, Housekeeping, was published in 1980. This debut fictional work was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1982. After this early success, Robinson took a break of more than 20 years before returning to writing novels. She published Gilead, the first in the series of the same name, in 2004, 22 years after the publication of her debut novel. But where Housekeeping fell short, Gilead was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005. Robinson has also been nominated for the Man Booker International Prize twice and has been awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Humanities Medal.