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Robinson calls prize-winning ‘Gilead’ ‘quiet’

Pulitzer Prize winning novel her first in 20 years
/ Source: The Associated Press

Marilynne Robinson, who won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, said her novel, “Gilead,” isn’t outrageous, shocking or eccentric.

“This is a quiet book,” she said Monday from the porch of her home. “A lot of young writers think they have to write something sensationalistic to get noticed. I’m very pleased that this book, which is very theological in many ways, seems to be interesting to a lot of people.”

Robinson’s book, which also won the National Book Critics’ Circle prize and was a finalist for the Penn/Faulkner Award, is about an Iowa preacher who spends his last days writing a letter about his life and his family heritage to his young son.

It is the first piece of fiction in nearly a quarter century for the 61-year-old author, whose debut novel, “Housekeeping,” won the PEN/Hemingway Award after its release in 1980.

The setting for “Gilead” is a small town in Iowa, where narrator John Ames grew up, worked and is spending his final days writing an account of his life and his forebears to his 7-year-old son, the unexpected blessing of a late, second marriage.

Ames recounts his first marriage, the death of his first child, the tension that existed in his relationship with his father and the complexities that defined the relationship of Ames’ father and grandfather, a colorful character who fought for abolition in Kansas and later joined the Union Army.

Set in 1956, the book captures the rhythms of rural life, the Midwestern landscape and the importance of religion and spirituality — without any hint of preachiness — in the lives of Ames, his family and network of friends.

Because she waited more than 20 years to release a sophomore effort following “Housekeeping,” Robinson said she’s not sure when she’ll write another book.

“Most people who liked ‘Housekeeping’ were loyal and glad that I managed to come up with something — finally,” joked Robinson, who admits being kidded by readers during her recent book tours. “But they’ve all been very sweet about it.”

In 1989, Robinson accepted a position teaching at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, which is the nation’s oldest and most influential creative writing program. Its alumni have included John Irving, T.C. Boyle and Flannery O’Connor.