Iowa’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist has won another award. Marilynne Robinson’s second novel, “Gilead,” this month was honored with the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Centered at the Presbyterian church in Louisville Kentucky, she says the award is “basically a prize for theology,” though they also give other prizes for learning and writing.
The Iowa City writer says her latest book is written in the words of a 76-year-old minister writing a journal to leave behind for his young son. Robinson says she’s always been interested in theology and has read it for years for her own personal enjoyment. She says it came into play naturally when she began writing about a minister, and she’s been glad that people who understand theology understand it’s appropriately used in this novel. The writer insists that the main character, an aging Iowa minister who lives in a small town and is named “John Ames,” isn’t based on anybody Robinson knows.
She says she felt as if she knew that character…but not like someone she’d actually known in real life. The book spent weeks on the best-seller lists this year, and Robinson admits that “If a book is well-received, the writer is well-rewarded.” The Grawemeyer award carries a 200-thousand-dollar grant with it.
But she’s not going to retire from her job on the faculty of the Iowa Writers Workshop. “It was a pleasure to write that book,” Robinson, says, “I loved that book.” She says that’s not always the case, so the work itself was a reward. Saying she’ll stay at the writers workshop, Robinson calls it “the best place in the world for a writer, I think.” Coming next will be a nonfiction book, though Robinson says she doesn’t want to talk about it yet.