Renowned author Marilynne Robinson gives Steloff Lecture

Posted by Rachel Kim

On Oct. 29, Skidmore students and faculty attended the annual Frances Steloff Lecture. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from President Philip Glotzbach and delivered a lecture on "The Writer in Society."

This was not Robinson's first time at the college. She has taught fiction writing for 23 years at the New York State Summer Writers' Institute that is run at the college. "I have been here for a long time. It's almost like a second home," Robinson said.

Robinson began the lecture with a reading from her novel "Housekeeping," which won the PEN/Hemingway Award in 1980. She then spoke about her thoughts on education. Robinson emphasized the importance of being educated for the sake of truly learning, rather than for becoming more qualified for a job.

She also spoke about the great influence that Latin has had on her writing. Robinson said that she considers Latin to be an important subject that is increasingly overlooked. "If you want your prose to be good, studying Latin is good for you," she said.

Robinson then read from her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Gilead," and discussed the history of Iowa, where she teaches at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

In fact, to foreground her novel, Robinson researched the history of Iowa. "I discovered a forgotten past, so forgotten even to the people whose past this is," Robinson said.

She noted Iowa's surprisingly liberal history. Women's suffrage and abolition were put on Iowa's agenda long before these issues concerned the rest of the nation. Robinson drew attention to the lack of attention that the middle of the country receives in comparison to the East and West coasts.

Audience members then asked questions and Robinson responded by describing her experience with research and her personal writing process.

Robinson remarked that her memory is her best tool and finished the lecture by emphasizing the importance of writing. "You learn so much about what your mind is and realize how much deeper you and your thoughts are," Robinson said.

Frances Steloff, a Saratoga Springs native, originally endowed this lecture series as a way to bring outstanding literary and artistic talent to the college. Steloff was a well-known patron of writers and founded the Gotham Book Mart in New York City. She also collected numerous books and pieces of literary memorabilia, most of which she donated to the college.

Since its start in 1967, the lecture series has been delivered by many respected authors including Gwendolyn Brooks, Anaïs Nin, Joyce Carol Oates, Arthur Miller and Margaret Atwood.

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