Marilynne Robinson is the author of the acclaimed novels Lila, Home, Housekeeping, and Gilead, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has also written four books of nonfiction, When I Was a Child I Read Books, Mother Country, The Death of Adam, and Absence of Mind. She teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
During this talk from the 2015 Seminar, Marilynne Robinson delves into the notion of grace and its various appearances in current and past cultures. Grace, she suggests, “is a word without synonyms, a concept without paraphrase.” Examining these linguistic barriers through an anthropological and theological lens, Robinson presents grace as a form of alleviation, suggesting that it appears in the cracks between the unarticulated and unacknowledged. Much of the talk focuses on what Robinson describes as “the second order of reality,” those higher insights that arise from intuition, a byproduct of experiencing the outer world deeply and purposefully.
Drawing on her vast knowledge of Pindar, Karl Marx, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and others, Robinson delivers this challenging lecture with intellectual passion, addressing complexities within vital issues such as racial and class inequalities in contemporary American society. From the current state of the publishing industry to her work in academia, Robinson presents a series of thought-provoking contrasts that create a sense of unease while offering a glimmer of cultural optimism. “The civilization as a whole is sounder, smarter than itself is able to acknowledge,” says Robinson.
Shortly before taking the stage, Robinson learned of the death of the much-admired novelist, short-story writer, and Key West resident Robert Stone, prompting her to open this talk with a brief elegy. “He was the most generous writer, very eager to encourage,” Robinson says of Stone, recalling a rafting trip some thirty years earlier where he recited, from memory, the poem at the end of the Book of Job. “I remember thinking,” Robinson says, “there’s absolutely everything to love about the life that has befallen me.”
From KWLS 2015: How The Light Gets In.