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Release: May 7, 1999

UI Writers' Workshop faculty member Robinson wins PEN award for art of the essay

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa Writers' Workshop faculty member Marilynne Robinson's latest book, "The Death of Adam: essays on modern thought," is the 1999 winner of the PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay. The $5,000 annual award honors the best book of previously uncollected essays by an American writer.

Founded by author Barbaralee Diamonstein and Carl Spielvogel, former New York Times columnist, the award aims to "preserve the dignity and esteem that the essay form imparts to literature."

In "The Death of Adam," Robinson addresses issues of religion, history and the state of society in a self-consciously "contrarian spirit." As she explores the question, "Who can imagine how the things we call ideas live in the world, or how they change, or how they perish, or how they can be renewed?", her focus ranges from considering how the McGuffey readers were inspired by Midwestern abolitionists to how Creationism has spurred on contemporary Darwinism to how Frenchman John Calvin points to America's continental origins.

"This is a grand, sweeping, blazing, brilliant, life-changing book," wrote Robert D. Richardson Jr., author of "Emerson: the Mind on Fire." "One turns the last page shaken, but also believing that if a voice such as Robinson's can be raised in our time, then a new reformation might be on its way."

Robinson, who is currently on leave from the UI as a recipient of a five-year, $250,000 Mildred and Harold Strauss Living from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, joined the Writers' Workshop faculty in 1991. She is the author of the acclaimed novel "Housekeeping," the non-fiction book "Mother Country," and numerous short stories and essays.

"Housekeeping" received the 1982 Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award and the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. "Mother Country" was a finalist for the National Book Award.

PEN, with nearly 130 Centers worldwide, is a membership association of prominent literary writers and editors. As a major voice of the literary community, the organization seeks to defend the freedom of expression and encourage the recognition and reading of contemporary literature.

The organization was founded in 1921 in London by John Galsworthy to foster understanding among men and women of letters in all countries. PEN has endured as the only worldwide organization of literary writers. It has grown to include centers on six continents with a total membership of more than 10,000. PEN presents awards in translations, creative non-fiction, poetry, drama, children's literature, fiction, and editing and publishing.