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(NOTE TO EDITORS: What follows is text -- with a few strategic additions and edits -- from the 2/3/98 news release of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The press contact at the academy in New York is Betsey Feeley, 212-368-5900.)

UI Writers' Workshop faculty member Marilynne Robinson win quarter-million-dollar award

NEW YORK, NY -- The American Academy of Arts and letters today announced that writers Marilynne Robinson and W.D. Wetherell have each been awarded a "Mildred and Harold Strauss Living." That is, Robinson and Wetherell will each receive a total of $250,000 -- $50,000 annually for five years -- allowing them to devote their time exclusively to writing. Robinson has been a member of the faculty of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop since 1991.

The award is a result of a 1981 bequest by Harold Strauss, for many years the editor-in-chief of Alfred A. Knopf, and his wife, Mildred. The express purpose of the award is to free writers from the obligation to earn a living other than through their writing. Recipients are required to resign positions of paid employment during the five-year period of the "Livings." The UI has granted Robinson a leave of absence from the Writers' Workshop for the term of the award.

Previous winners of the award are Cynthia Ozick and Raymond Carver in 1983, Diane Johnson and Robert Stone in 1988, and John Casey and Joy Williams in 1993. Carver, Casey and Williams are alumni of the Writers' Workshop. Casey is currently a visiting faculty member in the Writers' Workshop this semester -- his first job since completing his Strauss Living term.

The 1998 recipients were selected by a committee of leading American writers who are American Academy of Arts and Letters members: Ann Beattie, Hortense Calisher, William Kennedy, Robert Stone and Paul Theroux. All candidates for the Strauss Livings are nominated by members of the academy. No member of the academy is eligible to receive the award.

Marilynne Robinson was born in Sandpoint, Idaho in 1943. She received a bachelor's degree in American Literature from Brown University and earned a doctorate in English from the University of Washington, Seattle.

Robinson is the author of the acclaimed novel "Housekeeping" (1980), the non-fiction "Mother Country" (1989) and numerous short stories and essays. "Housekeeping" received the 1982 Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for best first novel, the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1982, and 1982 P.E.N./Faulkner fiction award nomination.

Set in Fingerbone, Idaho, an isolated mountain community, "Housekeeping" follows the tumultuous lives of two young, orphaned sisters, Ruth and Lucille. Shuffled from the care of a grandmother to two great aunts and, finally, to Sylvie, an eccentric and distant sister of their dead mother, Ruth and Lucille discover different ways of adapting to loss and a strange new life. Robinson's prose combines a lyrical and haunting language that reflects her thoughtfulness about both the familiar and the complex of everyday lives. A film based on the novel, directed by Bill Forsyth, was made for Columbia Pictures.

In addition to her numerous awards, Robinson is the recipient of a Lila Acheson Wallace Reader's Digest grant in 1991. A novel and a collection of essays, "The Death of Adam," will be published in September 1998.

On learning of her award Robinson responded: "The American Academy has done me a great honor in choosing me to receive a Strauss Living. To be given so much uninterrupted time for writing is a wonderful thing, a very benign intervention in my life, one which will allow me to do work I could never otherwise have found the time or the peace to do. Nothing could be of greater value to me."

The American Academy of Arts and Letters, chartered by Congress, was established in 1898 to "foster, assist and sustain an interest in literature, music and the fine arts."

The Academy will celebrate its centennial year with a series of special projects -- the introduction and sale of a Centennial Portfolio of prints by 46 members of the academy; the publication of "A Century of Arts and Letters," a decade-by-decade history of the academy written by 11 members and edited by John Updike; a special exhibition to open in November 1998 of works from the academy's archives of paintings, prints, manuscripts and memorabilia.

Each year the academy gives away more than $825,000 in awards to artists, architects, writers and composers. It presents exhibitions of art, architecture and manuscripts; readings and performances of new musicals. The 100-year-old organization is located in two landmark buildings at 155th Street and Broadway in New York.