May 27, 2011
Robinson lecture, all-star panel will spotlight UI Writers' Workshop 75th anniversary
A keynote lecture by Pulitzer Prize-winning faculty member Marilynne Robinson and an all-star panel on "The Writer as Public Figure" will be free public events when hundreds of alumni and past faculty of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop gather June 9-12 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the world-famous creative-writing program.
Robinson will speak on "The Workshop as Phenomenon" at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 9, in the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City, and the panel -- featuring two prominent authors who are also medical doctors, faculty member Ethan Canin and Abraham Verghese; and Pulitzer Prize winners Michael Cunningham ("The Hours") and Jane Smiley ("A Thousand Acres") -- will take place at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, June 11, in the Macbride Hall Auditorium. A reception will follow in the UI Museum of Natural History.
To attend the reception, pick up a free ticket at Prairie Lights Books or the information desk of the Iowa Memorial Union.
Robinson won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for the novel "Gilead," which is set in a small Iowa town, and the sequel, "Home," won the Orange Prize for Fiction -- the top international award for women writers.
In addition to the Pulitzer, "Gilead" won the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the 2005 Ambassador Book Award, and it was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. "Home" was a finalist for the National Book Award and Robinson's first novel, "Housekeeping," was a Pulitzer finalist two decades ago, when it won the PEN/Hemingway Award.
In the intervening years, she wrote two nonfiction books, "Mother Country" and "The Death of Adam." Her most recent book is "Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self," drawn from her 2009 Terry Lectures at Yale University.
In 1998, Robinson was selected by the American Academy of Arts and Letters to receive a Strauss Living award, a five-year stipend totaling a quarter of a million dollars that was established to enable writers to focus entirely on their work without requiring other employment. The UI responded in a manner that is astonishing by the standards of most institutions: She was granted a five-year leave of absence.
But Robinson soon found that teaching had become an essential part of her life. After only 18 months on leave, she turned down the remainder of the stipend to return to the workshop.
Robinson was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences last fall, and she was recently a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize, a biennial award the recognizes the overall contributions of a writer.
The Iowa Writers' Workshop is the oldest and most prestigious graduate creative writing program in the country, and, since its founding in 1936, the program has been home to thousands of remarkable writers.
The program claims among its graduates winners of virtually every major literary award, including 17 winners of the Pulitzer Prize, (most recently Paul Harding in 2010), three recent U. S. Poets Laureate, and numerous winners of the National Book Award, MacArthur Foundation Fellowships and other major honors.
In 2003, the workshop received a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was the first medal awarded to a university and only the second given to an institution rather than an individual.
The form of the writing workshop was invented at the UI, and it still abides as the basic mode of instruction and discussion, both at the UI and at the hundreds of other creative writing programs that used the Iowa Writers' Workshop as their model.
The Writers' Workshop is a unit of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Graduate College.
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