Submitted by @TripStarkey
A few weeks ago, on October 25th, in a small section of a Southern Methodist University library, I watched one of the greatest minds of my lifetime read from her books and lecture on life and literature. The very plain, unassuming appearance of Marilynne Robinson struck me as she stood behind a podium on that rainy night, and read passages from Gilead and When I Was A Child I Read Books. Her voice, gentle and reserved, echoed through the PA system as she answered the questions of eager listeners, and began to share her deep secrets, which weren’t really secrets at all.
“I write when I feel like it, and when I don’t, it hurts my feelings to read what I produce.”
It was fascinating, being someone who aspires to write for a living in the future, to hear such an accomplished literary genius discuss her career, her upbringing, and most importantly her passions. Robinson was such a humble woman, paying debts to Walt Whitman and the great Midwest, not skipping a beat in quieting the audience when they gave her praise. Hiding behind her black shawl and stringy gray hair, she gave all her admiration to humanity, the human mind, and existence as the things that have shaped her the most.
“In twentieth century literature, there are a lot of things I don’t get. There is a large undervaluing of the human interaction and human experience that I find disgusting.”
To anyone who has read a line of prose from Marilynne Robinson or heard her speak, it is obvious that she emphasizes the greatness within humanity, and desires to express that in her writing. The novels Gilead and Home echo the great searching within each individual’s soul, and our desire to have a purpose and meaning. Robinson wades through the nastiness of anti-thought and human stagnancy to find a beautiful conclusion that uplifts all who read it.
Her great emphasis on the mind and its ability to mold individual’s lives was what I found most fascinating. For someone whose prose is so tangible her readers could almost reach out and touch the faces of her characters, she has an uncanny ability to seep backwards into consciousness and generate stories on that plane. It is the tension between the reality of the world and the reality of the mind that has drawn readers in for decades, and made them feel at home in her tales of the American Midwest.
“The old love goes on. We impoverish ourselves by forgetting that it does… We do wonderful things educationally and then say that we don’t… This is how we talk to ourselves.”
The most thrilling part of Marilynne Robinson’s lecture was listening to hear her speak on both the triumphs and failures of America. As her uplifting message continued, she paid homage to those who paved the path for her own writing, and gave praise to those in America searching for truth and a proper expression of it. Modern day America is a nation filled with searching, hatred, division, and detrimental disrespect of mankind. Robinson expressed a great fear of misanthropy in our country, but reasserted that beneath the hate and misunderstanding, there is love. As her novels and essays express brilliantly, mankind is not dead. There is hope in our wandering, and we should never forget that.
As a child, like many in our country, I ignored the written word and held it in contempt as something the educational system was forcing me to do. Robinson, however, made me recognize the importance of starting a love of writing at a young age, and allowing it to cultivate with the other searching minds of our nation. That is where ultimate growth will come from. We must look inside and outside of ourselves, and grow in love and grace daily.
As the evening came to a close, I shook the wrinkled hand of one of my literary heroes, got an autograph, and snapped a picture. Even more than that, I regained an undying love for my country, for my passions, and most importantly for my dreams. For that, I am indebted to Marilynne Robinson and her writing forever. She is truly a genius and an icon, though she would never let you believe it for a second.
“There are a thousand reasons to live this life, everyone of them sufficient.” – Marilynne Robinson (Gilead)